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Even before the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2017 started on Christmas Day, the hype for “Ang Larawan” has been raised to fever pitch. It received rave reviews at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival early in November. Even Variety film critic Richard Kuipers thought it was “beautifully decorated and top-notch in every technical detail” that was “clearly made with the utmost love and care.”

Come the day after it was first screened in Philippine cinemas, however, and the film can no longer be viewed in 17 theaters. MMFF 2017 spokesperson Noel Ferrer confirmed that the musical has been pulled from some cinemas with consent from its producers after seeing its first-day sales. They conceded that the movie may not have found an audience in some areas.

Some viewers/netizens begged to differ as Twitter was flooded with sentiments on Ang Larawan.

“Simply spectacular. It’s very culturally specific in a good way; my Filipino culture front and center. Masterful direction, editing; outstanding performances. Every frame is full of energy and passion. I can’t praise this movie enough,” one tweet said.

“Watching Ang Larawan has become an obligation we owe to what little artists and indie filmmakers this country still has. But who can blame them? Without support for the local art scene, they are left with fewer and fewer options to survive,” another tweet said.

Looking for reasons why Ang Larawan should stay in cinemas? Here’s a list to convince you:

1. The source material is a masterpiece itself.

Ang Larawan is based on National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”, featuring lyrics by Rolando Tinio. Set on the eve of World War II in Manila, the story revolves around the cash-strapped Paula (Rachel Alejandro) and Candida (Joanna Ampil), spinster daughters of a famous old painter Don Lorenzo Marasigan. Don Lorenzo had suffered depression and stopped creating art. There are a lot of people interested in buying their possessions, including their boarder Tony Javier, who is eager to sell their father’s last big painting. Their older siblings Manolo (Nonie Buencamino) and Pepang (Menchu Lauchengco), on the other hand, want to sell the huge anscestral home for their own profit. Paula and Candida, however, are strong-willed and resourceful. How the two manage in their situation is where the movie will progress.

The “most important Filipino play in English” is a universally accessible tale about art, money, family conflict, national identity and female emancipation.

2. The superb musical scoring will give you goosebumps.

If you are in awe every time you hear Ryan Cyabyab’s “Kay Ganda ng ating Musika,” wait until you hear his tunes in the film. The legendary musician, composer and conductor highlighted the beauty of Filipino language as well as adjusting the original music a six-piece band to fit the 60-piece orchestra. Add the instrumentals from ABS-CBN and its Philharmonic Orchestra and you’re guaranteed to a goosebumps fest.

3. Its cast is excellent.

If the screen feels too small while watching this film, it’s most likely because of the stellar actors armed with rich musical theater experience. The cast members are as popular in the local theater circuit as they are on television such as Rachel Alejandro, Robert Arevalo, Nonie Buencamino, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Paolo Avelino and West End star Joanna Ampil. Alejandro, who is also the film’s producer, was particularly impressed with her on-screen sister and believes that she should win Best Actress. Ampil not only nailed her role, “her heartbreaking performance was also jaw-dropping.”

4. It is unique and uniquely Filipino.

Not a lot of local movie productions go for musicals, let alone alternately-spoken and sung dialogue. Apparently, this has never been done before, according to Alejandro. “There are no clear lines between speaking and singing,” she said. As it is uncommon, the first few lines might catch viewers off-guard but with Mr. C’s touch, but being the natural music lovers that Filipinos are, it should be fine as the film moves forward.

5. It was made as historically accurate as possible.

Ang Larawan values not just its source material but also history. It stayed true to the period it was set in by shooting majority of the film in the heritage town of Taal in Batangas. All the interior scenes were shot inside a heritage house owned by the Villavicencio family, while exterior scenes were filmed in Intramuros. The producers could not find a house in Intramuros that was completely intact to serve the film’s purpose. A particularly remarkable scene is the reenactment of the La Naval procession as it remained as faithful to the one held in October 1941, before the city of Intramuros was demicated by American bombers.

6. Artistic geniuses endorsed the project.

Film viewers have National artist Nick Joaquin and librettist Rolando Tinio to thank for their exceptional work on Portait. Before his death, Joaquin shared in a statement that the play’s story was a “vital element of our country’s centennial celebrations. It is significant for our people to look back and remember our culture and heritage as we look forward to the future.”

Regarding the play’s 1997 staging, Tinio said it has turned the elegy into a celebration. “Present day audiences may no longer mourn the passing of the world of truth and beauty symbolized by the old Intramuros and exemplified by Don Lorenzo Marasigan, Candida and Paula, but we certainly continue to admire and celebrate the tenacity of spirit with which they clung to their ideals of art and poetry that were losing ground as materialism and consumerism overtook their age,” he said.

7. It has a timely and powerful message.

The year 2017 was filled with challenges to values and human rights. Ang Larawan teaches a lesson in being steadfast and convicted. When asked what the film is about, Alejandro said it’s more than just women empowerment. “It’s about standing your ground, no matter what the cost, and fighting for what you believe in. It’s exactly what Celeste, Girlie, and co-executive producer Alem Ang have done with this film. People may say it’s not commercial but we fought tooth and nail to make it the most excellent film it can possibly be,” she explained.

While the film’s producers and mall owners agreed that the film will be brought back for viewing on January 1, the task to encourage audience to give substance movies a chance prove to be challenging. Add capitalism to the equation and things become even more difficult by a hundredfold. However, just like Paula and Candida’s battlecry, “Contra mundum!” the film and those of its kind shall continue to “defy the world.”

Photos from Ang Larawan Official Website

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