ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2013)
Young Anita (Teri Malvar) has a feeling she is afraid to express to anybody: that she has feelings not for a boy, but for a girl, and more so, a grown up woman, Pilar (Angel Aquino).
Being part of a family with a deeply Catholic background, and living in a rural town where the old ways seem to still govern everyday life, Anita is in real trouble once her secret gets out. Not even her best pals Carmen (Len-Len Frial) and Goying (Solomon de Guzman) are in the know.
Growing pains form the center of Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's debut full-length feature, a lighthearted, oftentimes humorous glimpse into a young girl's acquaintance with her sexuality. Yet, ANG HULING CHA CHA NI ANITA discusses a lot more than female homosexuality; through Anita, the film takes us on a bittersweet romantic journey between two people with a very wide age gap (hence, redefining the May-December affair) and treating it with much empathy for the motivations of each character.
Pilar is a broken soul returning home, despite the dismay of the villagers who seem to have deep issues with her. Anita is an innocent, young girl who is pitted between childhood and adolescence, and this dance with forbidden love will spark the transition of Anita between two stages of her life.
Bernardo employs a variety of techniques to highlight the unspoken elements of her story, an example of which is the use of dreamlike musical sequences to illustrate young Anita's fantasy of Pilar, and the use of such not only meets the objective, but rather adds color to a serious issue, making it bearable and joyful, even. What better way to showcase one's uncontrollable feeling of falling madly in love than in an elaborate dream sequence.
Equally rendering elements of humor and drama, the film achieves the end of making us feel what Anita goes through, and it further helps that young actress Teri Malvar portrays Anita with the fragile quality of a young girl but with the intelligence of a grown up woman that you feel compelled to root for her happiness.
Angel Aquino, in another noteworthy performance as Pilar, manages to be glamorous and seductive without even trying. From the first time we set eyes on her as she comes out of a tricycle, sparks fly. Aquino embodies the perfect woman- tall, sexy, and tender, and for a young girl's object of affection, the added qualities of mystery and unpredictability.
Anita's fragility, as the film progresses gradually becomes Pilar's. We see a sudden role reversal. Anita becomes Pilar's savior instead.
Other themes presented in the film include religiosity versus modernity, feminism, and a heartwarming tale of mothers and daughters. Furthermore, Bernardo also breaks the stereotypes of the goody two shoes and rebellious children, resulting into an examination of how a culture of repression by parents has affected the lives of their children.
Also of importance is the solid performance of young actors Len-Len Frial and Solomon de Guzman, who plays Anita's friends Carmen and Goying. All of the three children portray their characters without frills, or ever being conscious. Frial and De Guzman throw their punchline like veterans, prompting serious laughter.
Here goes possibly the year's feel-good movie with enough heart and humor to inspire us.