During the heyday of soap operas, the boob tube was filled with numerous sympathy-begging characters such as Mara (Judy Ann Santos) and Flordeluna (Janice de Belen). Their greatest strength and weakness is their exaggeratedly good heart. They are patient and kind and loving. They "turn the other cheek" (as Christ taught his followers) when attacked by antagonists.
We root for them. We cry with them at times of great ordeal. And sometimes, we wish we could slap them in the face so they would wake up from their incurable martyrdom. That era of martyr heroines has long been gone...or so it seems. Now that Filipinos are slowly tiring of fantaseryes and Koreanovela remakes, soap operas are making a comeback not only on TV but also on the big screen.
Director Joel Lamangan's latest independent film, Sagrada Familia (his follow-up to Dukot, Fuschia, and Walang Kawala), adapts the soap opera formula for the silver screen. It is composed of equal parts of melodrama and tragedy, complete with long suffering protagonists and a downright evil antagonist. The film may please diehard fans of soap operas, but more progressive viewers are likely to find it passé.
Sagrada Familia tells the story of a family that falls apart because of a tyrannical patriarch. When Merle (Snooky Serna) leaves for Naples to work as a nurse, she leaves her daughter Kat (Lovi Poe) under the custody of her overprotective husband Johnny (Emilio Garcia) and consenting mother-in-law Carmen (Gloria Diaz). After Johnny finds out that his daughter is seeing her schoolmate (portrayed by Felix Roco), he suddenly goes berserk. Kat soon finds herself physically maltreated and sexually abused as an incest victim.
When Merle decides to come home, she discovers that her family has gone missing. She searches high and low to know her family's whereabouts. But when she finally finds them, she is faced with a truth that is too hard to swallow.
The script, penned by Racquel Villavicencio (award-winning writer of classics Ikaw Pa Lang Ang Minahal, Alpha Kappa Omega Batch '81, and Kisapmata), is a little extreme, compared to your average primetime soap, in its hefty servings of violence and incest. But other than that, the requisite elements are all in place: camp, sentimentality, and hearty melodrama.
The script's fatal flaws are its lack of logic and an inconsistent characterization. For example, when Johnny finally reveals his true colors to Merle, Carmen tells her that Johnny has suddenly become violent since she went away. From the get-go, it has already been established that Johnny is violent. The very first scene shows Johnny beating up a young Kat for dirtying his security guard uniform. And then, he accidentally kills his father when the latter whips him. So did Johnny suddenly become violent? Or is he inherently violent?
Another example, when Kat confesses to Merle that she is raped by Johnny, Merle slaps her, calls her names and blames her daughter for seducing her father. Merle's reaction is out of character. It doesn't make sense, since she knows how good a daughter Kat is. In fact, Kat is a consistent honor student and a loving daughter.
Lamangan's direction shares the same attack on melodrama as Villavicencio's script. The film is replete with hysterical acting, buckets of tears, and clumsy dialogue. Like the director's other films, the score remains a concern. It's as if Lamangan doesn't trust his scenes to be dramatic enough that he has to amp up the musical score several decibels higher.
Like your favorite soap opera, Sagrada Familia ends with a climactic shootout—police intervention that's a little too late. We've seen this ending before on television. It's sad that they have to recycle it for the big screen.
Nevertheless, Sagrada Familia provides an acting vehicle for Lovi Poe and Snooky Serna, who is happy to be doing a dramatic film where she plays a major role. Snooky's last big role was in the 1995 film Inagaw Mo ang Lahat sa Akin.
As Kat, Lovi Poe tries to keep up the façade of a happy family. The hearts of moviegoers will go out to Lovi Poe's character as she sheds buckets of tears because of the hardships that she endures at the hands of her own father.
Viewers will also feel disdain for Emilio as he acts the part of an abusive father with flourish. It's easy to hate Johnny in this film, especially when he brandishes his gun to force Kat to do his bidding. Kudos to Emilio for bringing that much intensity to his role.
Sagrada Familia, which ironically refers to the Holy Family, bravely tackles the sensitive issue of incest. Considered the "social cost of migration," incest is a crime that leaves deep emotional scars on its victims. In fact, a GMA News report in 2008 reveals that lawmakers and public officials were alarmed by the rising number of incest cases among OFW families.
From start to finish, Lovi Poe's character only wishes to be a good daughter to her parents. She even keeps silent about her maltreatment so as not to be a burden to her mother Merle. Viewers are left to wonder why the daughter doesn't report the wrongdoing to the police or even to her own grandmother.
Through Sagrada Familia, the filmmakers illustrate what researchers have learned over the years: incest survivors have a tendency to cover up for their parents so as to preserve the family's "honor." A study published in India last April 2009 pointed out: "Disbelief, denial and cover-up to 'preserve the family reputation' are often placed above the interests of the child and its abuse."
Sadly enough, this rings true among Filipinos who might discriminate against incest victims and label them as being "malandi."
But if there's one lesson that viewers could learn from this cinematic experience, it's that incest is hardly ever the fault of the victim.
This indie film may have all the trappings of a soap opera but it delivers a strong message to incest survivors: Speak out and seek help, don't just turn the other cheek.
Sagrada Familia is rated R-13 without cuts by the Movie and Television and Review and Classification Board. It will open in cinemas starting January 20.