Tuesday ∗ 05 Jul 2011

too much Torre 3: on 100 days to heaven

in fact it was a surprise that a television critic would ask for, of all things, a kontrabida. but this is what Nestor Torre asks of ABS-CBN‘s 100 Days to Heaven. he says:

Another unfolding element of the show that needs to be remedied is the general weakness of its kontrabida quotient. Thus far, all we have is a cupidacious relative who wants to take over Anna’s thriving business empire.

yet this lack of a kontrabida actually works for this soap, seeing as it’s the story of business executive Anna Manalastas being sent back to earth by St. Peter so that she may undo all the mean she did while she was alive. Anna was the kontrabida in this story; she returned to earth as a skewed version of herself.

that is to say she returns to earth in the body of little girl Anna, her skills and intelligence and craftiness intact but not easy to utilize on her own. it’s easy to fall for this dynamic of childlike innocence and adult shrewdness all in one kid. this is why it’s also expected that the young Anna played by Xyriel Manabat gets more camera time: Coney Reyes as the adult Anna’s characterization was fixed from the start and would in fact fall into the trap of being kontrabida, period.

via abs-cbn.com

via abs-cbn.com

meanwhile, Xriel’s greatness here is her ability to be both the adult Anna, and a little girl who doesn’t mind playing with other kids. but Torre is unhappy:

On point of stellar coverage, however, Coney ended up with the short end of the stick (so far) in terms of active projection, so the imbalance clearly has to be addressed and remedied.

Fact is, there are dramatic devices and conceits that can be employed to mitigate the situation, and give Coney her due. We trust that the show can utilize those alternate options soon, so the production isn’t deprived of the mature actress’ proven acumen and energy.

in fact Coney does quite well, thank you very much, even proving that there is no short end of the stick, not when that stick is all about brilliance. the little girl Anna is the only person alive for those within the soap; the adult Anna appears for the viewers’ benefit, and is where Coney proves that the reckoning of a woman at the end of her life is one that’s quiet and restrained, one that’s about realizations that do not concede to the standard and stereotypical, that isn’t about regret as it is about an acceptance of faults if not a rationalization of it.

Coney’s appearances while fleeting, are well-thought out, enough to propel the story without weighing it down with long monologues and explanations. once Xyriel appears, the more difficult emotions have been dealt with, and the smarts and taray of little Anna becomes relief, light and comic in the hands of this little girl.

in this sense, it’s perfect that there’s no kontrabida here: for this little girl is not one who’s easy to oppress, and even the latter is already an archetype isn’t it. instead little girl Anna is given a counterpoint in the character of Sophia, con artist and survivor, smart but without viable opportunities at a better life.* other than of course becoming a team with little girl Anna towards changing both their fates, blurry as that still looks.

the uncertainty works here because it’s what’s truthful and real for lives such as Sophia’s, and even more so for someone like Anna. and it’s here that the storytelling of 100 Days to Heaven just works at keeping you hooked to the kindnesses and possibilities at change that it can deliver given the multiple stories it will deal with. this is also why it doesn’t make sense when Torre says:

Finally, the show’s storytelling has yet to dynamically detail how she <Anna> can turn her former victims’ lives around. A general “reformed” feeling of better intentions simply won’t cut it in terms of convincing and thematically affecting storytelling, so more work is needed here, as well.

in the same way that kontrabidas need not exist for life to be difficult or miserable, in the more real complex stories of our lives, it is never clear how things will develop or pan out. and for a soap to finally be this truthful, we should all want to thank the heavens.

* played by Jodi Sta. Maria the complexity with which she deals with Sophia is no surprise; she must surely be the peg for a comeback that’s about acting borne of maturity and skill, you almost forget she was George in Tabing Ilog.

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