Cherry Pie Picache confessed she is trying to get used to the term "internationally acclaimed," recently coined again with her name upon winning the Best Actress award at the 9th Osian's Cinefan International Film Festival for the indie film Foster Child. This Brillante Mendoza film will open in cinemas nationwide starting September 12.
In the movie, she plays a foster mother named Thelma. As a volunteer for a non-government organization taking care of abandoned children, she takes care of very young orphans before they are legally adopted.
Scriptwriter Ralston Jover (Kubrador) explained that Thelma was based on a real-life foster mother whose everyday routine he thoroughly followed when he conceptualized the story. Even during the writing of the shooting script, he kept on going back to the real-life Thelma.
The director of Foster Child is Brillante "Dante" Mendoza. In May this year, Foster Child had its world premiere at the prestigious Directors' Fortnight during the 60th Cannes International Film Festival.
Though we have known Cherry Pie to occasionally appear in soap operas doing mother, aunt or mistress roles, her involvement with independently produced films started a long time ago.
Titles that easily come to mind are American Adobo, Magnifico, Bikini Open and just last year, Kaleldo, wherein she convincingly played a lesbian. Kaleldo was her first job with Mendoza and she won for it the Best Actress award at the Durban International Filmfest in South Africa.
UNLEARNING CURVE. Despite these solid acting experiences, Cherry Pie intimated that when Mendoza offered her the role of Thelma, she had to throw everything she'd learned in her 17 years in the business. "It was a big challenge, I had to unlearn everything I know about acting."
Mendoza wanted a semi-documentary approach, meaning all actions must be shot in real-time. It was all brand new for Cherry Pie. "I had to come out very raw, very genuine. I want the viewers to see me not as Cherry Pie the actress but as Thelma."
Director Mendoza's non-conventional approach makes the film more engaging to watch, despite the heavy subject matter. With the use of one camera, the audience follows Thelma in the labyrinthine alleys in one of Metro Manila's depressed communities.
Before shooting, Cherry Pie said she had three-day familiarization in an economically challenged neighborhood in Sta. Mesa, Manila, and it brought her lots of surprises. Though the film was shot in about 15 days, she had grown attached to the people and the place.
"What surprised me the most was the genuine affection of foster parents to orphans under their care. They have a family of their own and taking care of a stranger is hard. They live in miserable conditions. Yet, though they are poor, they are capable of loving someone who they know will only be with them for a short while," Cherry Pie said.
She added that she found it ironic that those who have more material things in life are the ones avoiding such task. "They are too busy in their work or businesses but if you think about it, members of the middle and upper class in our society are the ones more capable of being foster parents," she lamented.
In the film, Thelma gets P1,500 allowance a month, plus diapers, milk and other basic supplies needed by the growing baby, provided by the NGO, represented by a comely social worker played by Eugene Domingo. Although the actress is known to be an effective comedienne, in Foster Child her talent for drama also shines through.
Thelma has two biological sons (played by Jiro Manio and Alwyn Uytingco) but she can't help being emotionally attached to her "semi-adopted" child.
The question that lingers: until when is such bliss? In one street scene, a school's façade, Thelma encounters one of her former alaga accompanied by a nanny, waiting for their car that will fetch them. Thelma calls out to the boy relentlessly but he can't recognize her anymore, until he is carried inside the vehicle by the nanny who mumbles something like, "Hurry, you might be kidnapped by this lowlife."
Such is the fate that of the relationship between foster parent and the child assigned to her. How long can Aling Thelma endure such an emotional roller-coaster ride?
"When the time comes they have to separate, the pain is deeply felt by Thelma. What more if the child won't recognize her anymore after a few years. Knowing Thelma is a real person, and there are many of her kind, sometimes I can't help but cry all by myself. Napapahagulgol na lang ako," Cherry Pie said.
Foster Child will be screened at the Montreal and Pusan International film festivals from September to October. Locally, it will be shown in cinemas nationwide starting September 12.