Hidden emotions and glowing recollections
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Dante Nico Garcia
Starring: Judy Ann Santos, Gina Pareño, Mylene Dizon, Meryll Soriano, Ces Quesada
Showcasing the immense beauty of the Palawan island paradise of Cuyo, “Ploning” is a simple story executed well by providing a heart. It transforms a dedicated story into a touching representation of a people’s way of life through the simple joys, heartbreaks, and fulfillment in the society where the people’s lives revolve – providing the personal recollections of love, longing, heartaches, memories, and friendships.
What makes “Ploning” shine is how it bares its soul while its heart remains intact. It has a measure of taste, intellect, and sincerity of bringing something intangible and yet vital to its audience.
Stirring hidden emotions here and there, “Ploning” effectively transports viewers into the era it promotes and injects its thoughts about life and love without sounding too corny and lecturing. The film gives away much beyond the mere saying of the lines. This ensemble piece evokes the needed sincerity coming from the insights and convictions of the filmmaker translating his life, his hometown, and his people into a quality film work.
Set in 1982 and shot entirely in Cuyo, Palawan, the film is based on a popular Cuyonon folk song of the same title. “Ploning,” the mysterious town belle everyone admires, is said to have a special place in the hearts of the Cuyonons. It sings of a native woman’s promise of patiently waiting and holding on to the promise of her beloved’s return. Portrayed by Judy Ann Santos, Ploning becomes an enigma of a citizen who talks with much reservation amidst the risk of becoming misunderstood. Interestingly so, the townspeople turn to her whenever they want to make sense of life’s confronting questions. And she socializes to open up others’ hearts amidst keeping her own closed. Her subtle grace and quiet strength makes her a barrio lass who is filled with unfathomable mystery.
A new Judy Ann Santos is seen on this film. Primarily, she had to learn the Cuyonon dialect as the film is shot 60 percent in Filipino and 40 percent in Cuyonon. And more than just being one of the most bankable stars doing commercial projects in her era – turning the lamest mainstream movies into box office hits with her charm, stature, and popularity – this film requires her to communicate her emotions through her eyes and actions only as compared to the usual predictable run of the cash cow plots of her mainstream projects (where the major selling point is having the most crying and shouting scenes as possible). For “Ploning,” instead of seeing the famous drama star bawl her eyes out, she doesn’t smile or talk too much. With this, the film strikes a minimal physical breakdown to become the most tearjerking moment. And this time, Santos generally gets a hand in the characterization of her role without the usual requirement for a leading man who is ultimately present in her commercial films. This film draws attention to her character as she moves, talks, and laughs reservedly, yet she captivates everyone around her. She becomes a tie that binds all of the individual stories together by becoming the barrios’s ‘Nay Ploning amidst her infinite waiting for the love of her life, Tomas.
The rest of the characters completing the ensemble depict the personalities of real Cuyonons. And the non-Cuyonon actors had to learn the dialect by heart not just to merely reflect it, but to give soul to the way of life of the people using it. And the impeccable acting of the rest of the cast helps bring Ploning’s tale come full circle. The actors and actresses are so natural, both the veterans and the starting performers alike. As a whole, they promote glowing emotions while saying their lines and tackling issues and struggling through the nuances of their everyday lives. Coming in par with the pros, the local actors Cedric Amit as the child Digo, Boodge Fernandez as Muo Sei/adult Digo, Lucas Agustin as the young Siloy, and Ogoy Agustin as the young Veling promote a sense of completeness to such a significant story about their town. Cedric Amit’s Digo, Ploning’s “anak-anakan”/foster child, becomes an adorable character carrying many of the pivotal scenes. His affinity towards his ‘Nay Ploning is truly endearing. His freshness, innocence, and natural moves work well with the story. Boodge Fernandez as Muo Sei/adult Digo also makes a realistic performance considering most of his scenes are with veterans. Lucas Agustin as the young Siloy depicts the needed youthful feelings of longing and anguish in his struggling life. Ogoy Agustin as the young Veling, Digo’s protective older brother, exudes such an intensity by owning his character with meaningful fondness and responsibility.
We see the pros working greatly for the film as well: Spanky Manikan as the Taiwanese nomadic merchant Tsuy, the surrogate father to Digo; Tony Mabesa as the patriarch Susing, Ploning’s father; Ces Quesada and Crispin Pineda as the strongly bound couple Nieves and Toting; Eugene Domingo as Digo’s bedridden mother Juaning; Gina Pareno as the grieving mother Intang, Tomas’ mother; Mylene Dizon as the feisty young nurse Celeste; Meryll Soriano as the lonely and struggling naiveté Alma; Ketchup Eusebio as the comic tricycle driver Badocdoc; and Tessie Tomas as the high-spirited old Celeste, better known as Seling. Just like the delicately rendered scene of the esposada (the traditional bridal shower of the Cuyonons), the very emotional father-daughter dancing scene, and the kasuy scenes with Santos, Dizon, Quesada, and Soriano create the right amount of tension and emotions to build up the story further. And the film proves that it’s not the mere screen time that matters most but the spark provided by the characters even with the least number of screen exposure. Joel Torre exudes such a positive energy as town mayor and old Siloy who has now clearly moved on to fulfill his youthful dreams. Ronnie Lazaro as the old Veling makes such a gripping statement in his very touching scene with the adult Digo. Beth Tamayo shares a sweet-natured demeanor as an adopted native of Cuyo and daughter of the spunky Seling. Jojit Lorenzo as one of the barrio lads evokes the comic indulgence of youth while keeping a reference to the rest of the young people of Cuyo. These pros only have a few minutes on screen, but they touch the audiences’ hearts through their meaningful looks, natural moves, deep sighs, silent tears, faraway gazes, and simple laughs.
Shot with live sound and in 35mm film, this brave independent film venture of young producers comprising Panoramanila Pictures marries the spirit of independent filmmaking with the business structure of commercial filmmaking – infusing the independent cinema spirit with commercial filmmaking sensibilities. This new film outfit believes in the genius and creativity of Filipino artists. And they know that such craft should succeed commercially as well in order to make filmmaking a sustainable endeavor – continuously bringing such wonderful stories for the Filipinos to the big screen. The young producers who gambled their money, time, and effort for this film include Guia Gonzales, Jourdan Sebastian, and BJ Lingan. These people combine their experiences in independent and commercial cinema industries while heeding to the vision of Dante Nico Garcia, a production designer-turned-writer-director. This collaboration boasts of valuable people doing behind the scene work. From Judy Ann Santos also taking the role of a co-producer, the roster includes veterans and promising young talents alike: cinematographer Charlie Peralta, underwater cinematographer Marissa Florendo, co-writer Benjamin Lingan, sound engineer Albert Michael Idioma, production designer Raymund George Fernandez, musical scorer Vincent de Jesus, and the list goes on.
Without trying too hard, the sincerity of this story about loving and waiting, healing and forgiving, becomes a light amidst the dying “Cuyonon breed.” It may not be perfect in terms of technical and thematic execution, but it has definitely mounted itself as a glowing recollection of valuable forces. It becomes a powerful collaboration taking its affinity into a wonderful representation of life, love, and the society. May such kind of project continue to flourish in our midst. May it start the trend of quality Pinoy feature films that are value-laden and culturally rich while being well-marketed and commercially viable at the same time.