Maid to order

From a purely critical point of view, Darryl Yap’s Maid in Malacañang is a middling movie. Shot in haste and on a shoestring (and they show), the writing is uneven, and the production values fair at best. As for the acting, Cristine Reyes (as Imee Marcos) was shrill and over-the-top, Cesar Montano (as Ferdinand E. Marcos) was sleepwalking through it half the time, and his real-life son Diego Loyzaga (as Ferdinand Junior) was delivering his lines obviously by rote. It was even Ruffa Gutierrez as Imelda (surprise, surprise!) and Ella Cruz, whose previous works were naught but harmless romantic fluff, who delivered the best performances. All these in a film that borders on hagiography. In short, it was hardly a modern classic.

Yet, it was a blockbuster by any standard, playing to sell-out crowds both here and abroad. Why, you may ask.

The answer is not difficult to divine: After having been fed a steady diet of Yellow propaganda these past 36 years, the public is hungry for “the other side” of the narrative. They are thirsty for the version of the Marcoses.

In this, the movie does not disappoint. Offering a fly-on-the-wall account of the last three days of the Marcos family before their fall in February 1986, the film gives the average Filipino a never-before-told story from the point of view of the maids of the Marcoses. Hence, the title.

Even this PoV is inconsistent, though, as the script oscillates from the PoV of the household help, to that of the Marcoses (especially that of Imee, who is painted the heroine of the story), and — briefly toward the end — the camp of Cory Aquino. Nonetheless, the novelty and (dare we say it) Marites factor are irresistible.

As to why many people were triggered by its showing is a source of bewilderment to this writer. As a producer with (modesty aside) a hit concert and two successful movies under my belt, and another one in the pipeline, I know for a fact that the visual arts are supposed to be a catharsis, a release of strong feelings or emotions on the part of its creators. Differently stated, a movie is a medium for a message, the message being, of course, what its makers want to express. As someone once said, if you want to affect a man’s mind, you write a book; if you want to touch his heart, you make a movie.

But the word most bandied about by its critics is that Maid in Malacañang is “revisionist,” whatever that means. Methinks that, to the opposition, it means a historical account that does not jibe with theirs.

Hence, methinks the lady protests too much, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

After all, a foreign filmmaker, just a year or so after Cory Aquino took power, came out with a film entitled A Dangerous Life, which portrayed Cory as practically a saint and everyone — Laurel, Enrile, Ramos, Honasan, and of course, Ferdinand and Imelda — as either villainous or cowardly. And an entire slew of motion pictures followed, all putting the Marcoses and martial law in the most unflattering light: Eskapo, Pisay, Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon. Even Maid in Malacañang’s foremost critic, the has-been director Joel Lamangan, had two of his own: Dukot and Sigwa. No one has complained, because that’s what movies are all about: Someone’s story.

Maid in Malacañang, in turn, is THE story of the Marcoses. It has as much right to be told as the other stories out there. And as the Marcos critics have found out, much to their chagrin, badmouthing the movie only made it more popular than everyone expected. For the narrative it seeks to pursue, the bashing it got was exactly what was needed to propel an average movie to above-average success. It was, for the movie, truly “Maid to Order.”

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