Thursday, May 06, 2021

Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty (Mario O'Hara, 1993)

A Letter to Mr. Nestor Torre

Dear Mr. Torre;

After reading your choices for best picture in the Metro Manila Filmfest, I would like to offer as candidate a film that almost entered and was almost shown during 1993; a film that, if it had been released, I believe would have been the finest in the festival: Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty.

It is far from perfect. The special effects are clumsily done; the "floating fireballs" are pointless and annoying. A fight scene where Johnny rescues the kidnapped Beauty, while funny, does little to advance the story. Tony Mabesa's role does not make sense: on one hand he is sensitive enough to sympathize with Johnny's plight; on the other he is so materialistic as to insist on marrying off his own daughter to money.

The film might be seen as a Filipino remake of Beauty and the Beast; nothing can be farther from the truth. Beauty tells Johnny that she loves him; he is transformed into handsome Jestoni Alarcon. She herself is turned into some kind of monster. When she demands that Jestoni tells her that he loves her he obliges, but nothing happens. The fairy tale has ended; the two are deep in Nick Joaquin territory, where nothing ends simply, and not magic but human truth rules.

While the first half is sometimes funny and sometimes beautifully done, it is in the second half that the film truly comes to life. Mr. Alarcon makes a quiet, gravely convincing 'prince charming;' if the Beast in Disney's version had turned into someone who looked and acted like him, I would have applauded the change. I also thought he was effective as the beastlike Johnny, with his gravelly voice and melancholy bloodshot eyes.

The Proud Beauty, as written and played by Gretchen Barretto, is a startlingly entertaining creation. What I disliked about Disney's fairy tales are their heroines: the mermaid may sing, the beauty might like reading books, the princess might insist on living her own life but they didn't have any real flaws, they didn't seem believably human. The Proud Beauty is afflicted with pride, and more than a touch of cruelty. Most of all she has style: as the proud beauty she demands that her grapes be peeled a la Mae West; as hideous harpy she refuses to hide her face but instead flaunts it before television cameras (The face has the haunting quality of classic film monsters: on her lower cheek a second face with eyes, nose, and mouth--grins? Grimaces? Above her eyes a taloned hand clutches her forehead). Hers is a three-dimensional character (in a fairy tale!) so her redemption is all the more moving. All Ms. Barretto had to do was flesh out this richly written role and she ends up with what may be the performance of her career.

Romnick Sarmenta is funny as the enkanto who curses first Johnny, then the Beauty; Sharmaine Arnaiz is also fine as another of his victims. Not enough can be said of Mario O'Hara's or Tony Mabesa's direction, especially in the second half--they dare to stage the climax of the film in a darkened room, with Johnny and the Beauty's backs towards the audience, one of the loveliest scenes in the film and an eloquent rebuke of all the in-your-face screaming overdramatic climaxes I've seen in Filipino films all year. Last but not least deserving of praise is Nick Joaquin, not that he needs mine; Mr. Joaquin should write new fiction, or new film scripts. What he comes up with tends to be far better than anything anyone else does.

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1/30/94

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