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Niño: Busan Film Review

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The Bottom Line

Strong cast overshadowed by stilted, over-the-top melodrama.

Venue

Busan International Film Festival

Cast

Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Arthur Acuña, Raquel Villavicencio, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, RaquelVillavicencio, Tony Mabesa

'Niño,' which observes how a Philippine family living in genteel poverty reacts to the sale of the ancestral mansion, is Chekovian in theme, Victorian in plot and performed in the raised pitch of daytime soaps.

Niño, which observes how a Philippine family living in genteel poverty reacts to the sale of the ancestral mansion, is Chekovian in theme, Victorian in plot and performed in the raised pitch of daytime soaps. The direction by Loy Arcenas is steady while Rody Vera’s screenplay gives equal weight sto a decent ensemble cast. There’s just nothing to startle or deeply impress, so it may have a hard time meeting the taste of art house audiences as well as the rigorous commercial standards.

Celia (83-year-old Fides Cuyugan-Asensio who recorded all but one of the arias live), a renowned opera diva in her youth, lives and looks after her enfeebled brother Gaspar (Tony Mabesa), a former congressman who never realized his political ambitions. Celia’s daughter Merced (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) oversees the household accounts. She and boarder Katherine are secret lovers. The sudden arrival of Mombic (Arthur Acuña) with his young son Antony (Jhiz Deocareza) deepens the rift within the family.

When Gaspar is hospitalized for a heart attack, his only daughter Raquel (Raquel Villavicencio) returns from the U.S. with her son Reinhardt. Raquel’s decision to sell the house (whose share Celia has already relinquished) reminds her relatives of their impoverished and precarious existence. While ne’er-do-well Mombic shows his true colors in a chain of shady acts, Celia lingers in a bubble, hoping that her arias and Antony’s impersonation of Santo Niño will miraculously rouse Gaspar from his coma.

Arcenas is perceptive about tangled love-hate relations in extended families, especially when self-interests have a hand. But too often they are expressed in contrived scenarios full of commo- tion and caterwauling. The corniest instance is at a dinner when everyone dredges up the past and points fingers at each other;suddenly, Reinhardt interrupts them to confess something. Of all skeletons in the closet, this must be the most predictable one.

The emotional pitch is heavily accented by the use of opera singing to denote a motif or mirror protagonists’ feelings. Niño opens with Celia singing Addio del passato from La Traviata. As if giving the plot away, her voice swells with passion when delivering the libretto “Farewell happiness of bygone days.” An even more Gothic moment has Celia belting out an aria excerpted from Tosca’s Vissi D’arte until her voice breaks, after she overhears Racquel’s plans to sell the house.

Arcenas’ experience of working in theater, mainly as a production designer no doubt accounts for the dramatic excessiveness and florid, stagey conversations, which competes against the discreet cinematography, which struggles to maintain a sense of reality and naturalism.

The cast, especially Acuñary and Villavicencio invest personality and credibility to their roles. They excel in conveying a volatile chemistry that is abetted by loneliness and held in check by distrust.

Director: Loy Arcenas
Screenwriter: Rody Vera
Based on the story by Loy Arcenas and Rody Vera
Producers: Daniel Arcenas, Philippe O. Chambon
Executive producer: Krisma Fajardo
Directors of photography: Lee Briones-Meily, Jay Abello
Production designer: Laida Lim
Costume designer: Dee Nermal
Music: Jerrold Tarog
Editor: Danny Añonuevo
No rating, 100 minutes