LORNA (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2014)

As LORNA opens, a black and white action sequence, almost film noir-ish in its quality quickly draws attention. The titular character, played by veteran actress Shamaine Buencamino engages in a gun battle, is crippled, and eventually loses the fight.

But LORNA is not an action film. Writer and director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo employs dream sequences, a technique she also used in her first film, ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA to showcase characters’ thoughts and motivations. The opening sequence is just one of the many times the scene cuts into a trance, suspending disbelief.

Lorna is a sixty-year old woman who is still looking for love, despite having failed at so many relationships. The news that her former husband (Jim Paredes) who never married her is getting married to another woman, and that she is to meet her ex’s new fiancĂ©e puts further gasoline to the fire. The problem is, she loves him (Paredes), more than he loves her, Lorna tells son Ardie (Felix Roco) in one scene.

There’s also a tall, dark, and brooding guy (Juan Rodrigo) who charms his way into Lorna’s affections, upon a chance encounter at a library, yet Lorna is wary of such advances having been experienced with so many heartbreaks.

The only real source of happiness for her at this point is the possibility of settling down with Johnny (Miguel Faustmann), a foreigner whom he met online. They communicate regularly via video chat (presumably Skype) and there’s a promise that Jhonny may be the one. Plus, he’s coming to the Philippines for a visit so Lorna will be meeting her for the first time in person. This has got her all pumped up.

As if this is not enough complication for Lorna, a former classmate, Rocky (filmmaker Lav Diaz) surfaces during a birthday party hosted by Lorna’s loudmouth and beauty crazed friend (Ma. Isabel Lopez, in full Ma. Isabel Lopez mode) and sparks fly between Lorna and Rocky. Old feelings are unearthed, and it seems that Lorna has already found the happiness and fulfillment she has longed for all her life.

For her sophomore feature film, Bernardo surprises us with the level of insight and empathy she gives her colorful heroine. The realization that Lorna was actually partly based on the filmmaker’s own mother and her experiences with failed relationships makes the film more enjoyable. The love letter of a daughter to her mother could not be any grander.

The script is heavily armed with snappy one-liners and biting sarcasm that even Lorna talking to her cat is hilarious. Ma. Isabel Lopez, worthy of the Best Supporting Actress award she received at this year’s Cinema One Originals fires one joke after another without any effort at all. Even Lav Diaz is not spared from the film’s playful tone, especially when he is charming Shamaine Buencamino with his easy-going demeanor.

Raquel Villavicencio, who completes the trio of friends to Buencamino and Lopez, is mightily entertaining as the friend character who is shy and passive and is always subject of Lopez’s ridicule. Just watching her in the Zumba scene is gold, and it is such a delight to see her veer away from the villain roles we often see her in.

LORNA, like Bernardo’s previous film has a tender affinity for women. The film does not judge or belittle men for always leaving women in ruins, but instead empowers women for their sacrifices.

Bernardo’s strongest suit is her use of imagery. The film does not need to narrate everything for the viewer—the images do it instead. Various sexual innuendos lay across LORNA’s visual blueprint, from the ashtray which is a mold of a penis, to the metaphor of the loaded gun. Likewise, the shot of Lorna examining her almost naked body in front of the mirror is powerful beyond words.

Shamaine Buencamino gives one hell of a performance as Lorna, at times comic, but mostly lovelorn, and fragile. We see her cry, we see her exert efforts to make herself beautiful and desirable, we see her give her whole being away, and we empathize as if she is our closest friend. Lorna is one strong woman, and Buencamino has made her much stronger.

Sigird Andrea Bernardo is definitely one of the filmmakers to watch out for, with her impressive debut in ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA, and this superior film, LORNA, which showed the young writer and director at an obvious artistic improvement. The storytelling is much more intact, and her direction became neater, more aware of the impact of each and every element.   



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