From: Philippine Star, Nov 20, 2008
by: Butch Francisco
Oro, Plata, Mata will always be my favorite local movie and it is generally regarded as one of the greatest Filipino films ever made. The indie film Concerto may never be hailed as one of the greatest of all time, but it will definitely be ranked as one of the best films produced this year. (I can’t say yet that it is the best because this year we have a good harvest of top-quality films and Concerto is one of the many graded A movies by the Cinema Evaluation Board.) As far as war dramas go, it is probably the next best thing after Oro, Plata, Mata.
Set during the Pacific War, Concerto is about a family that evacuates to the woods of Davao after their house in the city is confiscated by the Japanese forces. Packed like sardines in their temporary living quarters, they try to survive by planting crops and selling to the Japanese troops stationed nearby sweet potato fritters (the camote que of today, which in those days must have been called kinusilbang kamote).
In time, they befriend the enemy by serving them hot meals (the little food that they have), but without necessarily pledging their allegiance to them. They actually don’t have much of a choice and that’s the only way for them to live through that horrible war. The Japanese reciprocate by showing them kindness – sparing the life of a captured relative and transporting even the family’s piano from their house in the city to the woods that is now their home (the process isn’t as tedious as Holly Hunter’s piano delivery that travels across two oceans in the Jane Campion film The Piano).
The piano, which they call the heart of the family, is important to them since they are a musical people. Daughters Meryll Soriano and Yna Asistio are accomplished young pianists, while mother Shamaine Centenera loves to sing. With the piano back with them, life in evacuation becomes more bearable for everyone as they hold nightly musicals – with the Japanese officials enjoying every performance. Think Concert in the Park or Paco Park Presents, except that it is staged in the woods.
Concerto certainly isn’t as rich, encompassing, elaborate and extravagant as Oro, Plata, Mata which in 1982 – when the exchange rate was only P7-$1 – was produced by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines to the tune of more than P1-M.
I have no idea how much Concerto cost its producers (the same company that came up last year with Aureaus Solito’s brilliant Pisay), but you have to remember that this is an indie film and so it can’t really be all that expensive.
However, even if Concerto looks like a scaled-down Oro, Plata, Mata, it doesn’t suffer a bit when it comes to storytelling (although it could have been tightened a little more) – all the way down to the technical aspects. Its biggest strength – technically – no doubt is its music by Jed Balsamo. How can it go wrong in this department when it has to live up to the film’s title? If you have a movie title like Concerto, you better have excellent music because that is going to be noticeable. Fortunately, Balsamo delivers and he should be in the running – if not a shoo-in – for Best Music in next year’s awards derbies.
The highlight of the film is an intercutting of various scenes while Meryll and Yna alternately play compositions of some of the world’s greatest names in music – German composers only since Germany and Japan both belong to the Axis powers. Franz Liszt may have been Hungarian, but that was not a problem with the Japanese soldiers since Hungary was under German control during World War II anyway.
The most powerful and dramatic moment in this entire panoply of sequences is the part where a young Japanese soldier kneels down and cries out “Mama!” to Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino (she had been the one feeding them). He then offers his samurai to her and breaks down before her like a little boy who misses his mother back home in Japan. Truly, everyone is a victim in any kind of war.
Concerto is based on the Unpublished Memoirs of Jose Campo and Diary of the War: WWII Memoirs of Lt. Col. Anastacio Campo by Maria Virginia Yap Morales. The film’s director is Maria Virginia’s son, Paul Alexander Morales, who does great justice to the adapted literary pieces. Concerto is a masterfully orchestrated film under his baton.
Morales’ actors benefit greatly under his guidance and so we see sterling performances from his cast members: Meryll Soriano, Nonoy Froilan (as the military man father whose spirits are broken by his incarceration in a Japanese garrison) and Gary Lim, who pretends to be a friend to the family, but at the same time spies on them and passes on the information to the Japanese.
Impressive is the performance of newcomer Yna Asistio (daughter of former Caloocan City Mayor Boy Asistio and actress Nadia Montenegro). However, she (and Meryll for that matter) should have been made to play parts (really just parts) of the piano pieces so that they didn’t have to use “spaghetti arms” (which are so obvious because the hands used for the close-up of the piano playing belong to somebody much, much older). At least, in Boses, Meryll gets to play the violin herself in one brief part and I appreciate the effort. Maybe she and Yna should have done the same here in Concerto.
I don’t know if Shamaine uses her real voice in the singing parts, but I take my hat off to her for turning in another remarkable performance in Concerto. She is one underrated actress who should be given more projects and I’m happy that we have indie movies where we get to see more of her and her talent.
Equally praise-worthy is the performance of Jay Aquitania (who also delivers a good acting job in the movie Roxanne) as the eldest son who has to look after his family and be friends with the Japanese in order to survive the war.
Concerto is almost perfect and if I have to do a little nitpicking it has to be in the part where the family prays and says Holy Spirit instead of Holy Ghost. Up to the ‘60s, it was still Holy Ghost – which was why the students of the College of the Holy Spirit back then jokingly called their school Holy Mamaw because its original name was College of the Holy Ghost.
Then there is the matter of the Our Father where the family recites it in the updated version – instead of saying “forgive us our trespasses” toward the end of the prayer.
Director Morales perhaps should be more careful next time he does a period movie, but – at the risk of sounding blasphemous – I forgive him for this “trespass” (the old-fashioned term for wrong-doing).
All in all, I want to congratulate him for coming up with a magnificent film like Concerto and as I conclude this review, allow me to give him a one-man standing ovation as I shout Bravo!
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