June 20, 2013
IS Nora here?” Mike Rapatan, fellow Manunuri, asked me in a whisper as hosts Paulo Avelino and Cherry Pie Picache were positioning themselves before the microphone. It was time to announce the winners for the Best Actor and Best Actress category. He was, of course, referring to Nora Aunor. Years ago, the arrival of Nora always created a buzz, indicating that she would win. Seated up front, we did not have any idea that she was already there, cocooned among admirers and handlers.
It was the 36th Gawad Urian awards night. The results were much awaited mainly because the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the oldest film critics group, had always been noted for being grandly unpredictable. On the day that the nominations were posted, forecasts and predictions were as frequent and dangerously incisive as the weather forecasts. I was following up on the divinations of film scholars and movie buffs. They were good signs that the movie industry—presently in the form of independent cinema and away from the studios—is alive. It was also an assurance that our critics group still held sway over a populace of film enthusiasts.
The nominations were long and, as the days to the awards night approached, there were comments and questions as to wisdom of having more than the usual five or six nominees in each category. For this year, 13 actors were vying for the best performance in a leading role. The best actress category carried nine formidable women, with the predictably excellent Shamaine Centenera and the Rossi sisters, Assunta and Alessandra, listed with the legend herself, Nora Aunor. Also in the list was the theater actress Olga Natividad, brave and effacing in her role as a hotel chambermaid. Liza Diño, fairly a newcomer, astounded the viewers with a performance that was searing in its depiction of the hurt that love can bring to individuals. Then there was Ama Quiambao in Mes de Guzman’s underrated Diablo.
If these numbers were not big enough, there were 10 films competing for the top award, the Gawad Urian for the Best Film. But for the record, the category for Best Cinematography will go down in history as having the biggest number of nominees: 16 strong visual artists, 17 if you count the two for Colossal (Whammy Alcazaren and Sasha Palomares).
Following tradition, the Best Supporting Actress was first declared. Alessandra de Rossi, a strong contender for Best Actress in that enchanting film Oryang by Sari Lluch Dalena, won for her role as a woman who falls in love with her own cousin in Sta. Niña. It has always been my opinion that a good performer looks different from any of her screen portrayal. Alessandra Rossi is this person. Dressed in a voluminous black gown that she described as “good for two persons,” the actress was resplendent and kooky at the same time. Endearing is one modifier for this actress.
Reaping a back-to-back win, Art Acuña won for his portrayal of a menacing cop in Posas. He was last year’s Best Supporting Actor in Niño. Acuna’s outfit of jeans and white shirt earned a comment from the irascible Cherie Gil (she was that and beautiful and acerbic and smart all throughout the night) who quipped: “Art Acuña needs a stylist.” Given the youthful audience that night and the previous Gawad Urian nights, there was an intense anticipation for two exciting categories: Best Short Film and Best Documentary. Remton Siega Zuasola took the trophy for his Ritmo, a work with a density of a childhood recollection fused with the political realities adults face. A boy who loved to play hide-and-seek is now trying to escape from the military.
In 2010, Zuasola’s To Shomai Love also was declared Best Short Film by the Manunuri; in 2011 his An Damgo ni Eleuteria (The Dream of Eleuteria) was Gawad Urian’s Best Film for 2012.
Benito Bautista, director of the documentary Harana, did not hide his shock when the documentary about three haranistas sourced from three distant villages was selected by the Manunuri from a field that included Taguri: The Kites of Sulu and Give Up Tomorrow. Bautista dedicated the award to two of the haranistas who have passed on already.
The night was celebratory. Adding to the luster of the evening was the staging done by Cinema One in collaboration with the Special Projects Team of ABS-CBN. Art deco design framed the stage ushering in the handing of the Natatanging Gawad Urian to Mila del Sol, resplendent in her black gown and silver white hair, who walked up to the stage, bent and weak. But up there, as she surveyed the crowd who rose as one, she slowly pulled herself up and delivered in halting but melodious lilt her remembrance of things past. The gilded age of Philippine cinema came back with this lady who stood there and reminded us all that what we have now did not come from a vacuum. These indies, these experimentations traced their roots to the 1930s and the 1940s, when values of home and love were challenged by the narrative of a nascent cinema.
For the first time, the Gawad Urian included in the program a section called “In Memoriam,” to pay homage to those from the industry who have gone ahead of all of us. Dolphy, Luis Gonzales, Mario O’Hara, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Celso Ad. Castillo, Danny Zialcita, Eddie Romero, Daisy Avellana, Nita Javier.... The list was long, the sadness was longer, but as the laughing face of the unforgettable Bella Flores filled the screen, we knew the bell tolled for us as well.
Other awards were given. Adolf Alix Jr. went up to collect his Best Director trophy for Mater Dolorosa. Earlier, he accepted the Best Screenplay award in behalf of Mes de Guzman for Diablo.
Then it was time for the Best Actor and Best Actress. The competition was stiff. Eddie Garcia providing a bittersweet reading of an aging gay bachelor was up there with the rest. Kristoffer King, after a slew of films, was starting to have a cult following. Carlo Aquino was very good in Mater Dolorosa. Still, the night was meant for Jericho Rosales, the father who lost his son and found him again in the most difficult situation. Removed from his good looks, Rosales is marvelous as a father whose life seems to be naturally difficult in the most ordinary way. The actor, obviously elated, rushed to Cherry Pie Picache to hug her first before going to the microphone to deliver his acceptance speech.
The air was thick after Rosales ran down the stage waving the trophy. It was time to declare the Best Actress. Picache smiled after opening the envelope and read the name: Nora Aunor. The actor was home with the Manunuri. In her early days as an pop idol whose skills as a thespian was still suspect, the newly formed critics group chose her as their Best Actress. The film was Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos; the director was Mario O’hara; the genius was Nora Aunor, who not only starred but also produced that classic.
Aunor acknowledged that night her place in the history of the Manunuri. It was a return, a triumphant one. Fans of this “one and only superstar” rushed to the stage. Banners were unfurled as if crusaders were declaring an attack, an occupation. A pilgrimage was coming to a stop, at the shrine of someone more powerful than this petite lady, in a gray pantsuit. This is the Nora Aunor phenomenon, a mystery and a force after all these historical years.
The floor directors had to create order. Soon, the stage was cleared and Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist, was seen coming out of the backstage. A few seconds later, Nora appeared and held on the arm of Mang Bien. They came down to where the microphone was to announce the Best Film. Arnel Mardoquio’s sweet elegy for Mindanao, Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Dilim ng Gabi was the winner.
· Best Film: Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim
· Best Actress: Nora Aunor (Thy Womb)
· Best Actor: Jericho Rosales (Alagwa)
· Best Supporting Actress: Alessandra de Rossi (Sta. Niña)
· Best Supporting Actor: Art Acuña (Posas)
· Best Director: Adolfo Alix Jr. (Mater Dolorosa)
· Best Screenplay: Mes de Guzman (Diablo)
· Best Cinematography: Whammy Alcazaren (Colossal)
· Best Production Design: Brillante Mendoza (Thy Womb)
· Best Editing: Aleks Castañeda (Kalayaan)
· Best Music: Diwa de Leon (Baybayin)
· Best Sound: Willy Fernandez, Bong Sungcang, Ferdinand Marcos Sabarongis (Florentina Hubaldo)
· Best Short Film: Ritmo by Remton Siega Zuasola
· Best Documentary: Harana by Benito Bautista
· Special Award for Film—Natatanging Gawad Urian (Lifetime Achievement Award): Mila del Sol