‘Larawan’ versus the giants

November 28, 2017 12:55am

Bayani San Diego Jr.

Now, for the hard part.

Many thought it was implausible, if not fool hardy, for a big-screen musical set in the 1940s to make it on the roster of this December's Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF)---an event dominated by franchise flicks and fantasy fare. But then again, Loy Arcenas' "Ang Larawan" defied the odds and landed a slot in the MMFF, true to its author Nick Joaquin's original exhortation: "Contra mundum (Defy the world)!"

True to form, producer-actress Celeste Legaspi remains willfully undaunted: "It is an exciting, challenging, gratifying, awesome, scary feeling. But I have so much belief in our material and message, so I refuse to be cowed by fear!"

Lead actress Rachel Alejandro's optimism, however, is tempered by a healthy dose of pragmatism. "We are super grateful ... but now, the real work begins. We are working double time---arranging TV guestings, mall appearances---to convince people to watch it on the first two days of the fest."

Alejandro is keenly aware that the fest's first two days can make or break an entry. The movie needs to attract viewers in droves on Dec. 25 and 26 "so that we will not be pulled out of the theaters," Alejandro explained.

Legaspi noted: "We are focusing all our efforts to promote the film, primarily to those who are already interested in it. They will be our 'Larawan' champions."

Legaspi likewise sees the need to tap a wider audience---perhaps among the millennials who need to get acquainted with the works of two National Artists, Nick Joaquin (who wrote the play) and Rolando Tinio (who wrote the libretto of the musical).

"We should introduce it to those who are not yet familiar with it," Legaspi asserted. "We want them to be intrigued, charmed, bothered and then captured!"

Toward this end, the "Larawan" team is pulling out all the stops.

"Our movie is beautiful and deserves to be seen by all," said Alejandro, who also acts as producer. "We will be in Cebu for the MMFF promo on Dec. 10, and at the Glorietta in Makati on Dec. 16 for a mall tour."

The entire cast will also guest in the musical-variety show "ASAP" on Dec. 17. Of course, the team will join the annual festival parade in Muntinlupa on Dec. 23.

"Looks like we won't be celebrating Christmas this year, but it's OK," Alejandro quipped.

"I just hope all this bravery amounts to success," Legaspi said.

Indeed, it took nothing less than raw courage to produce this splashy musical on spinster sisters (played by Alejandro and West End star Joanna Ampil) who are pining for a lost, genteel era.

But Legaspi and company are not the type to shy away from a gargantuan challenge---including recreating the grand La Naval de Manila procession in Intramuros, with 600 extras in full prewar costume.

How did they pull off the impossible?

"With a lot of money that we didn't have," Legaspi remarked, in jest. To make matters extra arduous, it was rainy on the day of the shoot.

The team also had to make special provisions for the imahen of Our Lady of La Naval, which was on loan from Sto. Domingo Church. "We had to secure a number of permits. We had to rent a tent for the Virgin Mary. We had to find parking space for the carozza," Legaspi recalled.

It was a mammoth production. "The film was done with a lot of love and care," Arcenas told the Inquirer. His job as director was to make the film, he reiterated. Now, it's up to the producers to "figure out how to sell it to the general public."

"We need a lot of help from the media," Arcenas conceded. For starters, it had well-received screenings in two cities abroad. "It has touched audiences in Tokyo and San Francisco," he said. "I am hoping word of mouth will bring in a receptive audience. We did it for the love of the Pinoy heart."

It will surely help that, for some Filipinos, life is one big musical extravaganza, no matter how dire the circumstances. The music, composed by Ryan Cayabyab and played by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, sent shivers down Alejandro's spine, as early as the sitzprobe (seated rehearsals). "It was orgasmic," Legaspi exclaimed, with a hearty laugh.

"During the shoot, our production crew would sing along with us," Legaspi related. "These are macho, tattooed men. After we shot Joanna's breakdown scene, they broke into applause."

Music truly reverberates in the Pinoy heart.