Friday, December 01, 2006

The hand that rocks the cradle rules our hearts

Inang Yaya
Directed by Pablo Biglang-awa and Veronica Velasco

Vol. XX, No. 92
Friday-Saturday, December 1-2, 2006 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES


That we all measure our reality by the mirrors that reflect them is an indication of the power of film and its ability to show us what is hidden from our own selves. It is a lofty aspiration: to mirror the truth and lay it barefaced for all to see. Yet, more often than not, this influential medium is used to obfuscate and befuddle, much to the delight of commercial enterprises that seek no other reward than money.

In truth, local cinema has wallowed in a quagmire of B-movies over the last few years, in a peat of decomposing ideas unfit for the cultivation of creative thought. The Golden Age of Philippine Cinema awaits its rebirth, but, sadly, there are very few to answer such an imposing call.

There is, however, reason enough to smile these days, and it’s kept me in a better mood than I have been in of late. Call it the holiday spirit inevitably coloring the sentiments of a cynic like me. It may even be the inebriating spirit of a glass too many of eggnog too early in the season, but suffice to say that in a season of tiresome remakes, unimaginative exploitation of serials, and depressingly formulaic horror flicks, Unitel Pictures’ Inang Yaya rises from the lot like Aphrodite born in a sea of foam.

It’s a rarity in current Philippine cinema, given its deteriorating state. And it’s exactly the sort of feature film that makes you second-guess the future of the local motion picture industry. Hmmm. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

Maricel Soriano topbills as Norma, a.k.a. "Inang Yaya" or, literally translated, "mother nanny." A single mother, she is forced to leave behind her daughter Ruby (Tala Santos) in the care of her mother Tersing (Marita Zobel.) An all-around helper in the household of May and Noel (Sunshine Cruz and Zoren Legaspi), she earns this loving moniker from Louise (Erika Oreta), the seven-year-old child she has cared for since birth.

A crisis ensues, however, and Ruby moves in with her mother, thanks to Norma’s grateful employers who can’t seem to live without her. It’s happily ever after then, right? Think again. As in the case of real life, the transition is not as rosy as it seems. Norma, Ruby, and Louise all find themselves in a balancing act of love and loyalty, and of compassion and personal desires, walking a hair-thin line of economic divide.

It’s an ordinary life of servitude, common to many and identifiable to Filipino families all over the world. Whatever the arguments may be for or against the very notion of household help, they all fly in the face of our culture. Truth be told, we’ve probably all had the same experiences — or close to them — changed only by our different personal perspectives. Nannies, or more commonly known as our ubiquitous yayas, are a part of Filipino family life. Many of us grew up with them and, in turn, have assimilated them into our adult lives.

Yet, as seemingly "common" and "necessary" as they are to our lives, we often take them for granted. The poet William Ross Wallace once wrote, "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world," and, to children growing up in a nanny’s loving care, no words ring truer. Our nannies are our surrogate parents, there for us when our own flesh and blood is conspicuously absent. They lighten the load immensely for us; they are a ready helping hand to ease the burdens of everyday. They give us respite and rest from the troubles of the world.

And this where Inang Yaya succeeds in realizing the enormity of an otherwise "insignificant" sector of our society. By immersing us in a realistic family situation, we find our selves — our values and truths — mirrored in the depiction of the film. From the provincial household of Lola Tersing, to the more modern and decidedly sophisticated lifestyle of working parents May and Noel, directors Pablo Biglang-Awa and Veronica Velasco get the rhythm of life down pat. Their characters are fleshed out with real skin, bones, even grit, that it becomes almost instinctive for viewers to empathize with their plight.

Moreover, Ms. Velasco, as the film’s writer, has imbued her characters with lifelike representations of real-life people. Lola Toots, Louise’s abrasive and surly grandmother (played by the fascinating Liza Lorena), is not the tiresome caricature she seems to be. Scratching at the surface of her blossoming relationship with Ruby, our notions of contentiousness and indifference are tested. Beneath this ill-humored, stubborn old woman springs forth a wealth of emotions, some noble and some, well, just plain human, that reject ambivalence at any level.

Ms. Soriano does an excellent job portraying Norma, a woman torn between love for her daughter and the child she considers all but her own. There are no excessively sentimental or cloying scenes to keep the mood depressing; instead, Ms. Soriano deftly highlights the poignancy of Norma’s plight with restrained acting, albeit one that breaches through the artifice of howlers and snot-nosed tearjerkers.

Sunshine Cruz and Zoren Legaspi play supporting roles to the triumvirate of Norma, Louise, and Ruby, but, as brief as their appearances may be, they are convincingly consistent as busy working parents: loving, concerned, but with just a tad too little time in their hands. Perhaps it is well and good that they are now parents themselves. Rather than simply being cast as glamorous figureheads, they provide the film with more meat and soul.

Nonetheless, the real revelations of the movie are the child actresses hired from an audition of hundreds. (Log on to YouTube to see footage of the audition, and you’ll certainly agree with the choice of casting.) Erika Oreta’s Louise is a perfect foil to Tala Santos’ Ruby. Each representing half of Norma’s heart, they play off as yin and yang, the refined vis-Ö-vis the gruff, the child of her heart as opposed to the child of her womb. Both possess a natural charm for the camera, though it is the irrepressible Santos who deserves special mention as a gifted performer, one who can summon emotions simply with a pout or even just a downcast glance.

That being said, I must comment on a little product placement that seems out of sync in the overall scheme of things. On two separate occasions, a specific product was integrated into the scene, calling attention to itself rather than blending into the natural progression of the work. It’s a momentary lapse in judgment on the part of the film’s makers, I believe, and fortunately, despite its very obvious intentions of commercial promotion and recall, viewers who shared the screening room with me were more wont to smile about it and simply brush it off. I note, however, that this would not have worked in a lesser-caliber film.

Inang Yaya is definitely a first rate production. It absolutely deserves the grade-A rating it received from the Cinema Evaluation Board. Smooth, with a strong story line, solid execution, great production values, and even greater acting, Inang Yaya succeeds in transporting us from the realm of make-believe to real life. Best of all, Inang Yaya reminds us that love is never divided, just always multiplied.

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