It was easy to fall for watching the movie Fuschia, directed by Joel Lamangan co-written by him and Ricky Lee. There was veteran actress Gloria Romero in the lead role, a really interesting title, and an even more interesting synopsis. More importantly, it is part of the Sine Direk project of the Director’s Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI), sold as a showcase of films created with unbridled freedom – no capitalist producers to consider.
But there’s more to good films than just a director’s freedom. In the case of Fuschia, it is about knowing when to stop. Unless of course the point is to befuddle the audience into confusion.
The movie begins with the reunion of three old friends Mameng (Gloria Romero), Gener (Robert Arevalo) and Mars (Eddie Garcia). Now at the last years of their lives, they decide to all live under one roof. This of course is complicated by the fact that Mars is Mameng’s ex-husband, and Gener, her common law husband.
This is a plot thick enough for a light drama about lolos and lolas and how they are trapped in the stereotype of the dependent, aged people we must care for. Fuschia could’ve revolved around the life these characters lived, grappling with the truths that surround them: society was judgmental, they were facing death (Mars was home from the U.S. to die in the Philippines), no children to care for them, and they loved each other in a way that was distinctly theirs.
But Lamangan and Lee decide to give us a dose of good ol’ social consciousness in the film, and halfway through there are suddenly a corrupt mayor, crazy goons, a farmer salvaged, and the rest of the community needing to come up in arms. The lead character Mameng is suddenly expected to rise to the occasion; her story, suddenly about being hero or not.
This “coming of age” of Mameng is entirely possible of course, granted that her characterization allows it. But there was nothing in the first half of the story that created Mameng as someone who was up to this ending of a raised fist and angry screaming.
Mameng was many other things, though. She was unconventional, fixing herself up, loving the color fuchsia, doing a kendeng in front of the mirror everyday. She had a sense of her importance as housewife, and the film began with what seemed to be cooking as a metaphor for her life well-lived. She also seemed feminist in many ways, in her discussions about love and marriage with her female grandchild (Iza Calzado) in the throes of marital problems; and also, when she came face to face with the old ladies of the community, including her Ate Carmen (Armida Siguion-Reyna), who were reprimanding her for living with the two men.
In this confrontation scene, Romero as Mameng brings it to another level, as she calmly rejects the criticism she was hearing, by saying, “Matagal na akong nakiki-apid.” They tell her how bad it looks, and she stands up and screams: Bakit? Mukha bang may magkakagusto pa sa lawlaw kong suso? And she holds her breasts and proves them to be… uh… sagging. Only Romero, given her age and stature, could do justice to that last bit, without it seeming theatrical or ham. It is age as well that allows for the confrontations between the two men, still competing for the attention of Mameng, to be funny and believable.
But these wonderful moments, including the scenes of sadness and death, (halfway through the movie Mameng wakes up to a dead Gener), disappear into the woodwork of what is deemed as the more important aspect of the film: the bigger corrupt society. And this shouldn’t have been a problem, had it been realized that in fact there was a society in the story to begin with, a context given their mere existence: Gener was a farmer, Mars a retired U.S. Navyman, Mameng a housewife. So much could have happened from there.
Instead we had to sit through Mameng’s transformation into a Sister Stella L. of the elderly, without clear motives or a real grounding in activism. In the end, she says she must leave the town in order to reveal the corruption in it, and we can’t help but be surprised that the mayor and his goons will allow her to leave – whatever happened to their use of guns and gold?
Wewill not even begin about the party setting in which Mameng reveals her plans, the presence of the poor but the missing middle class or rich of the town, and really, the fact that we shelled out P161 pesos for a movie such as this in a time of crisis.
As the introductory film to the Sine Direk project, Fuschia was only saved by its brilliant actingcourtesy of Romero and Arevalo (Garcia was really playing just himself, and so was Siguion-Reyna). Does this even have anything to do with the director and his freedom? Maybe the more important question is this: what is the correct spelling of the color fuchsia?