In Ekstra, Vilma Santos did a great job in fleshing out a character who’s equal parts funny, hopeful, and tragic.

The showbiz industry thrives in glitz and glamor. We all look forward to seeing attractive celebrities, blockbuster movies with big production values, and all the drama that happens in between. All too often we forget about the “little people” who fade into the background: the production staff, the crew, and the unnamed talents who all work behind the scenes.

Ekstra (The Bit Player) sheds the spotlight on these unnamed heroes, particularly the bit players (also known as “talents”) who have to fight tooth and nail just to get a millisecond appearance onscreen.  The movie revolves around Loida (played by Vilma Santos), a hardworking single mom who has been a talent for several years. She takes her roles seriously, and she’s always in character, just in case the camera might pan her way (it eventually does, but all we see is a shadow of her back, blurry in the background). She remains patient and understanding despite the long waiting time, oppressive heat, and verbal abuse. “It’s all part of the job,” she gamely responds, out of breath, after Cherie Gil sticks a lit cigarette on her arm.

She knows the ins and outs of the biz, and she takes great pride in her work. “Crowd din ako dati,”  she advises a hopeful newbie. “But look at me now,” she beams. “Crowd pa rin.” She bursts into laughter, and so does the audience.

It’s easy to dismiss the movie as a simple comedy, with its hilarious lines and seemingly absurd sequences. But the thing is, it shows us the harsh reality that bit players are subjected to. They would get text messages at odd hours, often waiting for an entire day just so they could be part of the celluloid crowd. They don’t have designated rooms or trailers where they could comfortably wait. Instead, they’re left to fend for themselves and they’re expected to be ready for their scene at all times. Some bit players work for several days straight, if they have a pressing need for cash (which is the almost always the case), putting their health at stake.

Talents were also portrayed as being treated rather shabbily. We cringe as Vilma Santos and the rest of the talents get shouted at, berated, and dismissed as mere nobodies who seem to get in the way of everything. Did the taping get delayed? Are they running behind schedule? Things aren’t going as planned? It’s most likely the bit players’ fault.

Vilma Santos, as always, exceptionally played the role to a hilt. The world bit players live in is all too jarring, more so because Vilma Santos—THE Vilma Santos—convincingly plays the role of a lowly talent. That might be too hard to accept in real life, but Ate Vi did a great job in fleshing out a character who’s equal parts funny, hopeful, and tragic.

We feel Loida’s excitement when she giddily tells her daughter that finally, she will be able to work with Papa P [Piolo Pascual], but we also feel her anxiety when she’s lost in thought about her financial responsibilities. We feel her panic and embarrassment as she laughs off a mistake while taping, but she remains hopeful as she anticipates another booking. In a movie that features cameo appearances by big marquee stars—namely Marian Rivera, Piolo Pascual, Eula Valdes, Cherry Pie Picache, Pilar Pilapil, Richard Yap, Tom Rodriguez, and Cherie Gil—the bit player still shines the brightest.

The movie features a witty and hilarious script, which is further bolstered by Ate Vi’s great comedic timing. There were no lapses in timing and delivery, and there was a stark contrast between the realistic portrayal of the “normal” characters as opposed to the over-the-top acting featured in their teleserye project.

The movie culminates at dusk the following day. Tensions run high, everyone’s tired and frustrated, but they continue to barrel on, as they need to shoot sequences scheduled for airing that night. One by one, the production crew buckle under their pressure, sparing not even the talents, even the poor and hapless Loida. The director soon loses his temper and storms off to the set, hurling expletives at the startled talent who was overcome by anxiety. The dream is shattered, and we feel Loida’s pain and frustration as tears stream down her face, her eyes conveying all the hurt that she dare not verbalize.

Vilma is at her best at the final scene, where she’s subjected to painfully watch the very episode they just shot. She’s embarrassed and frustrated, and we watch in horror as her eyes well up while she tries to hold everything in. We’ve seen that look several times in Ate Vi’s previous movies, but it still haunts us just the same.

The 9th edition of Cinemalaya will run until August 4, 2013. Entries are being screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, and Alabang Town Center.


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