Cinema legends Lore Reyes and Peque Gallaga once again team up in Sonata, a film that deftly crafts sound and imagery to produce a story with a heart. The movie introduces us to key characters: disgraced opera singer Regina Cadena (played by Cherie Gil) and an idealistic young boy named Jonjon (played by Joel Torre’s grand nephew Chino Jalandoni). The two are worlds apart—one is a deeply scarred adult who seems to have completely shut herself off from the rest of the world; the other, a compassionate boy transplanted from the city, who’s eager to explore what rural living has to offer. As the story unfolds, we find the two characters striking an unlikely friendship, as Jonjon tries to reach out to Regina.
The story is touching enough on its own, but what sets apart Sonata from most films is that it masterfully weaves a heartfelt story into a kaleidoscope of vivid images and stirring music. The directors dedicate the first few moments of the film to establish the idyllic beauty of the Negros province: there are vast tracts of sugarcane fields awash in golden sunlight, and perfectly blue skies that bring back memories of carefree summers.
It is interesting to note that during the first part of the film, the dialogue is sparse—instead, the movie relies on imagery to tell the story. One minute we see Jonjon gleefully exploring his newfound terrain in broad daylight, the next we see the morose Regina holed up in her equally gloomy room, desperately attempting to communicate with her lover (who seems to be the only “friend” that she has at the moment). We see a lot of contrasts: light and shadow, wealth and poverty, beauty and tragedy. However, the first part may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some people may find the pacing a bit slow and dragging during the first half of the movie.
The plot eventually takes the center stage as the story progresses, and we see Regina eventually warming up to Jonjon. They go on several adventures: they take a poignant cart ride (where we see Regina liberating herself from her self-imposed exile), they go on a picnic and talk about Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly’s Pinkerton, and they even stage an opera. Regina finally begins to see life in a new light, all thanks to Jonjon’s earnest efforts. But while there’s life, there’s also death—the movie, after all, is a study on contrasts.
Cherie Gil could just may be at her finest as Regina Cadena. She was able to flesh out a tortured opera singer (who was at times, pathetic and apathetic) who’s much more than just a traumatized has-been. Child actor Chino Jalandoni still seems a bit rough around the edges, but he’s nonetheless charming as the compassionate Jonjon. Chart Motus (who plays Jonjon’s mother, Cora) irregularly stumbles between scripted and somewhat convincing acting—which is unfortunate, given that she delivers several striking lines in the film.
The strength of the film lies in its ability to deliver poetry with a heart. While it features a hefty serving of breathtaking cinematography, it does not completely lose sight of the story—it’s not merely art for art’s sake, and it relays a story that anyone can relate to.