MOVIE REVIEW: Eugene Domingo-starrer Barber's Tales: a treasure of Philippine cinema

by Benedict Bartolome
Aug 12, 2014
In Barber's Tales, Eugene Domingo plays a widowed woman who takes over her husband's barbershop. Nonie Buencamino (right frame) plays the corrupt mayor in their rural town. (To view behind the scene photos of Barber's Tales, CLICK HERE)

Barber's Tales brought honor to the Philippines through accolades received abroad.

It earned for Eugene Domingo the Best Actress Award at the 2013 Tokyo International Film Festival while Jun Robles Lana won the Best Director Award at the 2014 Madrid International Film Festival.

The film also bagged the Crystal Mulberry Audience Award at the 2014 Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy as well as the Best Project Award at the 2013 Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum.

Finally, Barber's Tales (also known as Mga Kuwentong Barbero) will be shown in the country starting August 13.

Writer and director Jun Robles Lana wrote the screenplay in 1997 and shot the film for three weeks in General Nakar, Quezon province. The movie was screened abroad during the aforementioned film festivals and the reactions abroad were more than favorable. "Yung performance ni Eugene yung unang napansin," Direk Jun points out. "And then second was the circle of women, yung friendship nila. This was set in the ‘70s, so yung period film na ‘yon which I captured rural life nung panahon ‘yon, that was quite interesting for foreign audiences."

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Now that Barber's Tales is released locally, Jun encourages folks to watch the film as soon as possible to keep interest high. The topic might seem to cater to female viewers but its appeal is actually for everyone.

The target audience, he says, is "lahat tayo. Kasi yung problemang pinakita sa pelikula, corruption, family planning, insurgency lalo na sa ‘70s, lahat ‘yon problema natin. Ang worry ko lang talaga kasi, di mo maaalis na medyo political yung film. Alam naman natin ganitong klaseng pelikula di agad madaling tanggapin. Walang formula ito, walang love story, walang love team, so dun ako natatakot, kung paano magkakaroon audience itong klaseng pelikula sa atin."

Set in 1975 during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Barber's Tales revolves around Marilou, a woman who takes over her husband's job as a barber in a small rural town. When her husband dies, she inherits the town’s only barbershop—a business that has been passed down by generations of men in her husband’s family.

She endures gender discrimination but she prevails with the help of her female support group as they surpass a politically charged situation with rebel insurgents.

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Barber's Tales has a very deliberate pace, very slow and steady like rural life. The colors are muted but the details are crisp. The cinematography also captures the idyllic beauty of Quezon province.

Not a scene is wasted as every take is precise and economical in its execution. The timing may move slowly but the dialogue goes straight to the point. It takes an almost solemn route with the absence of conventional background music but there are regular comic infusions that keep the ball rolling.

The film has themes about gender roles but presented in a low key manner. There's nothing overt about how females are treated as it is the way of life during the 1970s. The women only discuss it within their circles and the changes wrought are either very subtle or none at all.

The matter that is more on display would be the political angle with the rebels fighting against the military and the corruption of the mayor (played by Nonie Buencamino). This is presented quite early in the movie but the Martial Law aspect is not fully explained for the benefit of foreign audiences. They would have to take it in stride as part of their exposure to Filipino culture. The danger from associating with the insurgents actually overrides the discrimination theme and the cover up of a key event successfully derails a grave female domestic concern. Since the film is a period piece, history can no longer be altered, only presented.

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Eugene Domingo deserves to be commended for her portrayal of Marilou the barber. She maintained an unassuming demeanor all throughout the movie, winning the empathy of the audience through her sympathetic plight. Her consistency of character as a quiet, meek, unassertive woman effectively elicits shock through her later actions.

Her companion Susan (portrayed by Gladys Reyes) suffers alongside her as a wife who is constantly pregnant while Tessie (played by Shamaine Buencamino) embodies a mother's concern for her proxy son. The latter is actually her nephew played by Nicco Manalo who keeps a steady, neutral expression despite being in intense scenes.

Nonie Buencamino portrays the rather intimidating mayor who exudes an aura of quiet menace despite his friendly facade. Iza Calzado is not just a pretty face as she plays a pivotal role in the movie, though her much-talked about kissing scene with Eugene’s character is more for sensationalism than a plot point. Eddie Garcia also dons robes as a priest while Nora Aunor will surprise audiences with her cameo role.

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Barber's Tales is a treasure of Philippine cinema and should not be missed for its historical and cultural significance.

Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.

(To view behind the scene photos of Barber's Tales, CLICK HERE)

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In Barber's Tales, Eugene Domingo plays a widowed woman who takes over her husband's barbershop. Nonie Buencamino (right frame) plays the corrupt mayor in their rural town. (To view behind the scene photos of Barber's Tales, CLICK HERE)
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