By Eric T. Cabahug
Monday, September 23, 2013 · 8:38 pm
Nora Aunor’s new film, Mes de Guzman’s “Ang Kwento Ni Mabuti,” is an excellent companion piece to her previous movie, Brillante Mendoza’s international award-winner “Thy Womb.”
Both are portraits of women in life-changing crises that test their tenacity and character. But while “Thy Womb” ultimately tugs at the heart, “Ang Kwento ni Mabuti” coalesces in the mind.
Which is to say that De Guzman’s CineFilipino entry is an even more challenging, demanding piece.
For one, it has an even more deliberate pace than the Mendoza opus. It’s also quieter and much less colorfully ethnographic.
“Mabuti” is also more of a character study. And it takes pains and considerable time painting a picture of Mabuti as this sunny, good-natured, cheerful, kind, helpful, hardworking, firm-footed, tenacious Everywoman who embodies the best in the Pinoy spirit.
She is a hilot in a remote village who gets thrown off her bearings when she discovers a big stash of cash inside her bag on the bus ride back to her village after a rare trip to the city.
The money is an unexpected gift, like manna from heaven, that couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Mabuti and her family (mother and four grandchildren) are facing eviction from its small property over unpaid taxes. Additionally, Mabuti’s two grown children are having difficulty making sufficient strides on their own to support their children, much less guarantee a good future for them.
It’s the story of Job with a twist. Instead of losing everything, Mabuti is suddenly given the key to everything. But the question of whether it’s right and proper for her to use somebody else’s money that was entrusted to her for a different purpose eats at the morally upright Mabuti.
If all this sounds rather high-minded, it’s because it is. Mes de Guzman is that kind of filmmaker.
And his adherence to spare, naturalistic, life-like presentation (he wrote the screenplay as well) gives the film a certain chilliness that provides a very interesting contrast, and friction, to the story’s sun-kissed setting — the highlands of Nueva Vizcaya.
The result is an excellent film that’s very easy to admire but not as easy to embrace on a gut level.
As for La Aunor, she turns in another miracle of a performance. It’s perfectly calibrated athough more economical than her celebrated turn as Shaleha in “Thy Womb”, but no less startling.