by TITO GENOVA VALIENTE
Business Mirror [Reeling]
Wednesday, August 19, 2011
IN her absence, we relied on memories and recollections. Sordid news filtered from the afar: that she worked in some offices doing menial jobs (nothing’s wrong with this); that she had become addicted to some substances (ironical for someone whose contribution to this film industry was substance in film production and performance); that she gambled every night using the money given to her by adoring fans that liked her (she still had fans even during her lowliest days).
During her long absence, the mainstream film industry died and, in its place, independent filmmaking rose. With the so-called indies came the new breed of actors. The performances of these actors were the kind that subverted surface look for the inner grace of candor and sincerity. The new breed of performers created a new space for their own art. Overnight, the acting style that was so standard for many years appeared stilted. Overnight, new names and new actors blazed on the screen.
Excellence and the recognition of that excellence accompanied independent cinema. But something was missing. There was the ineffable because no one would really talk about The One who was not here. The silence was like a ritual, an antidote against complete vanishing. For us who truly love her, we feared that if we talked about her not being around, she would not be with us anymore. It was not the fear of the unknown but the fear of what we do not want to know: that she had been away for eight long years.
Then Nora Aunor, one day in August, came back. The unmentionable vanished. The fear that one’s knowledge of her absence would keep her away from all of us faded away.
A few months back before Aunor’s arrival, I was invited to join a Facebook group called NFF. The site is managed by Raul Rodriguez and has been described by some, with tongue in cheek, as a secret society. In that e-community, the topic and the theme of the exchanges are all Nora Aunor. That universe is propelled by Aunor and all the remembrances and documentations about her performances and awards.
A full month before Aunor’s arrival, I was privy to updates and news about the impending return of the actor. There were doubts and there were misgivings when she did not arrive in July. But soon, the words in NFF were all about explaining why she did not arrive that day. Soon, the news became bulletins, a day-to-day update about Aunor’s preparation, the negotiation about her contract, and the people she will work with. The constant updating was becoming more like a weather report as the tropical depression approaches the land, and when the depression is transformed into a full-blown typhoon.
And soon, the bits of information were by the hour, very much like the thundering of the rains preceding a major weather disturbance.
With all my admiration for Aunor, I was not expecting that her return would create such a massive impact that would encourage me to use typhoons and storms as metaphor. But this living metaphor of supreme artistry proved to be worthy of the metaphors of a major natural cataclysm.
At the airport, as viewed over TV and on the Internet, we witnessed a display of her art for pauses and silences when she stopped for a few seconds, surveyed the crowd with those eyes and in a few seconds tracked and traced her expression from A to Z, her body coiled in taut nervousness and recoiled not for the kill but for the love. She was mother incarnate, the sister who we missed, the singer whose voice is now but part of a nation’s memoir. She rushed forward and hugged and touched everyone. The hands surged forward; the necks were bent to reach out to her face, the face that graced and grazed many a character in many unforgettable essays on the silver screen. There was the young girl in pigtails and in dresses that were overlaid with laces and ribbons and the voice that deserved the modifier “velvet.” There was the young woman wronged and vindicated, downtrodden and rising with the songs about beloved and moonlights becoming her. The present and the past flowed in and out of the crowd and this person called Aunor. Here she was finally: the girl who not only made good but surpassed all expectations of any actor of any generation, transcending the mainstream and the independent cinema, breaking rules about stereotypes.
There she was, the Original Subversive, the Only Superstar.
There she was, the imperfect personality, the controversial celebrity who perfected herself in roles that were as disparate as the visionary Elsa (the flaws in our faith and religion) and the supremely nostalgic and funny Annie Batungbakal.
There she was the nurse whose patriotism was flawed but monumental as all isms are in Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo. There she was the lover caught in between ethnic representations and in between wars that were private and public, political and apolitical.
Like the storms and typhoons that come our way, the arrival of Aunor and her presence now bring shifts in wind directions as well as new breezes. People who were malignant in putting her down are now fans. The writers who declared Aunor as “dead” are now the same persons lighting candles not for resurrection but to atone for their sins of guilt and ignorance.
Actors who did not know Aunor are all at her doorstep waiting for some benediction that would allow them to read lines with her. Social and cultural historians who only knew Aunor from academic treatises about her and from YouTube sampling of her acting highlights are now happy that in their lifetime they have seen this woman, alive and not just made vivid through a collection of paragraphs.
Aunor is truly back. It is time to update our essays on her works, on her politics, on her profiles. Aunor is here and the movie industry is once more alive with the great possibilities of good filmmaking and excellent portrayals.
Aunor has returned and she becomes once more the full chapters in an ongoing book on the Filipino film industry. The rest shall remain tiny footnotes and endnotes.
There is a bonus in this return: Aunor has become articulate and frank and open about her life and her art. Which reminds us that all the mannerisms and traditions that we see now in our artistas were initiated by Aunor when she was new in the industry. You know, the naiveté, the timidity, the elliptical remarks. Those are gone and in place are the thoughts and feelings of a woman who has seen it all, who has gone through the tragic and comic twists of life. Articulate and human and effusive. All gifts to those who truly care about Aunor and the compelling cinema she was able to create for all.
***Kurosawa’s Rhapsody in August is the great director’s paean to the history of war and the impact of the A-bomb on a generation of Japanese. The film, however, is more than a war film; it is a tribute to the magic and power of memory, and its politics. In that film, violence and annihilation take on a shattering loveliness. Nora Aunor’s return is a rhapsody in August because she reminds us that many years ago, there was this young girl—unschooled in many ways and un-workshopped—who nevertheless etched in our collective memory depiction of roles that were both lovely and disturbing, shattering and nurturing. Rare qualities that are something to rhapsodize about.