Dahling Nick promises to be a documentary-drama on the life of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin. The three-hour film does this through interviews with the late writer’s friends, most of them also notable writers, and his niece and executor of his estate, Charo Joaquin Villegas.
Director Sari Dalena mixes interviews with reenactments of episodes in the author’s life, archival footage, and vignettes of selected stories.
This 2015 Cinema One Originals entry starts in a tunnel with jazz music playing, as a (drunk?) figure awkwardly walks down the tunnel and it is revealed to be Raymond Bagatsing as an adult Nick Joaquin. He encounters a female figure with a crab—and a reference to his “Cave and Shadows” collection.
The high points of the film for this writer were the readings by Joaquin’s friends: Butch Dalisay of the opening of “May Day Eve,” Jose Ma. Sison’s reading of “Summer Solstice,” Gemino Abad’s recitation from memory of “Innocence of Solomon,” and Bienvenido Lumbera’s “Six P.M.”
The film tries to marry a unique style of documentary—reportage, file footage, and interviews--with elements of magic realism and drama. The cinematography by Nap Jamir is beautiful in its use of chiaroscuro, vibrant colors, unusual camera angles, and the like.
But the editing could be tighter. Some scenes seem overextended and some sequences feel overindulgent.The sound is uneven in some parts, so that some music and sound effects drown out dialogue; some dialogue is too faint to be understood.
The copy screened during the gala night did not have subtitles throughout, so it was difficult to understand some of it. There is a question as to why the director decided to dub over the voices of some of the lead characters, including Assunta de Rossi and Maria Isabel Lopez.
There are some details overlooked like an obviously contemporary brand of shirt worn by a character (during a period flashback) and planters that peek through a glass door.
The script of Dahling Nick succeeds in establishing a loose timeline that moves through time periods without confusing moviegoers.
It blurs the lines between genres, attempting to create a unique movie experience.
Sari Dalena, Keith Sicat, and Kris Lanot Lacaba put together a script that reveals enough about the man, with a few surprises, to capture attention—but leaving some possibilities for further investigation.
Of course, as it is common knowledge (though maybe not so common?) that Joaquin loved his San Miguel Beer, it is prominently displayed in every interview and many reenactment scenes.
If you're wondering why the movie is titled Dahling Nick, it refers to the renowned writer's penchant for calling people as "Dahling."
There are several funny incidents related to those interviews and beer. While her husband Pete Lacaba is recounting a serious incident, Mara Lanot is seen taking a sip of beer and grimacing a little because of the taste. F. Sionil Jose also declares that he does not drink beer, pointing at the bottle in front of him.
Raymond Bagatsing is undoubtedly a good actor. In some scenes, he resembles Nick Joaquin in manner, speech, and expression so much that it is hard to remember that it is indeed just the actor channeling the writer.
However, there are some sections where he goes a little overboard: his characterization of the ilustrado in “May Day Eve” felt like he was channeling, to almost comic effect, Antonio Banderas. His later depiction of the elderly Joaquin felt like a caricature of his intonation and wordplay, and less a reflection of his character. He is most thoughtful in his portrayal of the artist as a young man, confused which path to take: the secular or the religious.
Joaquin’s stories “Legend of the Virgin’s Jewel,” “May Day Eve,” “Summer Solstice,” and “Two Kisses of Eros” are interpreted in vignettes. These are when the story traipses into fantasy and imagination. Some of it works, but sound sync is at times problematic; the CGI used is ambitious, but leaves some room for improvement; some parts are also too lengthy.
As a tribute, it helps that the director, Sari Dalena, runs in the same artistic circles as the late writer Nick Joaquin. In fact, she grew up with “Tito Nick” since her father, Danilo Dalena, drew political cartoons for the Free Press where Nick served as editor.
It is a good effort to scratch the surface and reveal more of the man whose works generations of Filipino students have studied over the years. It aims to share an appreciation for the beauty of his writing, not only in form (of lyricism and rhythm) but also of substance (of ideas and the struggles in dissecting them).
At the very least, Dahling Nick will hopefully heighten interest among different generations about one of the best Filipino writers.
Dahling Nick will still be screened:
November 14 (Saturday)
5:10 pm – Resorts World Manila
6:45 pm – Glorietta
9:40 pm – Megamall
2:30 pm – Megamall
4:40 pm – Glorietta
12:30 pm – Trinoma
4 pm - Resorts World Manila
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.