MOVIE REVIEW: Ang Larawan Is the Movie-Musical Everyone Needs to See

Come for the music and cast, stay for its hard-hitting message.


( As moviegoers, we often associate movie-musicals to familiar titles of our childhood, from The Sound of Music to Grease and Moulin Rouge, and more recent Hollywood fare like Les Miserables and Hairspray. Rarely do we think of Filipino films in this light. The daring Ang Larawan hopes to change all that.


Based on the three-act play by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist of the Filipino, Larawan is set in pre-World War II Intramuros and follows the struggle of two unmarried sisters, Candida (Joanna Ampil) and Paula (Rachel Alejandro). Their father, a high-profile painter named Don Lorenzo Marasigan, has fallen ill and hasn’t produced a painting in years, causing their once-grandiose lives to fall into poverty.



Housed in their home is their father’s self-portrait and what many deem to be his last painting; its allure has piqued the curiosities of reporters and pretentious art critics, but the two sisters only wish to keep the painting and be left alone. Their sole boarder, a vaudeville piano player named Tony (Paulo Avelino), constantly urges them to sell their painting to an American buyer. Their more successful siblings, Manolo (Nonie Buencamino) and Pepang (Menchu Lauchengco), want them to donate the painting to the government in exchange for a fund that will support their reclusive father.



The portrait—and to an extent, their home—serves as the bastion of Candida and Paula’s ideals, despite a judgmental society with rapidly shifting values of greed and consumerism. While fellow Old Manila residents easily adjust to a new culture brought about by the Americans, the two sisters spend their days hiding from bill collectors, worrying about their father, and longing for their carefree, high-society lives filled with parties, dancing, and poetry. This doesn’t just strain their relationship with their neighbors; it eventually strains their relationship with each other, too.



The rest of the ensemble cast’s fascinating narratives also revolve around the painting. Early on in the film, Tony croons, “I’m not a real pianist. I’m a piano player.” He longs for legitimacy as a musician and wants to use his commission to support his musical studies abroad. And like everyone else, he is weighed down by his reality and the lack of opportunities. Manolo and Pepang, on the other hand, have already caved into the new society’s values and want to use their sisters for their personal gain.

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Perhaps no one exemplifies this duality more than Don Perico (Robert Arevalo), a former poet who becomes a senator. In one superbly acted scene, Candida accuses Don Perico of turning his back on his art in favor of a more lucrative career in politics. “Hindi ko pinatay ang makata sa dibdib ko,” he explains. “Namatay siya nang kusa dahil nakatadhana ang kanyang pagkamatay.” Life isn’t as simple as art—or anyone—makes it out to be; more often than not, it gets in the way and there isn’t much anyone can do.



It’s this immensely talented ensemble cast, from major characters to even minor ones played by veteran actors and young talents like Nanette Inventor, Celeste Legaspi, Cris Villonco, Aicelle Santos, Ogie Alcasid, and Zsa Zsa Padilla, that make the movie. Despite the heavyweights in the credits, Ampil’s poignant performance steals the show whenever she is in the frame. Alejandro doesn’t just carry her own, either; her chemistry with Avelino is palpable and she shines at her most vulnerable moments. As for Avelino, though not as vocally sound as the seasoned thespians that surround him, he lends genuine charm and nuance to his role.



Boasting libretto by National Artist for Theatre Rolando Tinio and music by Ryan Cayabyab and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, Larawan is a musical feast, even for those who are averse to or unfamiliar with the genre. More than that, it’s the richly detailed production design that truly makes the play come alive onscreen. From old-timey cars that plow through Intramuros’ cobblestoned streets to eye-catching retro ensembles that echo a glamorous yet tumultuous past we only read in history books, it’s this painstaking attention to detail that soars at every frame.



And despite its period setting, the aptly named story remains universal: A literal portrait of the intricacies of the human condition. How do you pursue your art (whatever that may be) and maintain your integrity in a consumerist society that largely cares for neither? How do you follow your dreams without sacrificing your ideals or losing a part of yourself in the process? It’s here when Don Perico’s moving one-liner rings true: “Defy the world, Paula. Defy the world, Candida.” Hopefully, it’s a compelling sentiment that rings beyond the end credits, too.



RATING: 4.5 out of 5 spots


Ang Larawan is an entry under the Asian Future section of the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival, which ran from October 25 to November 3. If accepted into the Metro Manila Film Festival, it will hit local theaters December 25.


Photos courtesy of Jojit Lorenzo, Bill Barrinuevo, GR Rodis, and Erickson dela Cruz.

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