"Mariquina," as with most outstanding indie films, wraps an intense story around a topic of focal interest. As the title suggests, we learn as much about the problems that beset the Marikina shoe industry, as well as about the Guevarra family whose fate is entwined in it.
Old Romeo Guevarra (Ricky Davao) commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. While searching for the perfect classic black wingtip shoes for his wake, his estranged daughter Imelda (Mylene Dizon), a busy businesswoman dealing in garments, reflects on the travails of their family when she was growing up.
Flashback to 1986, Romeo was the topnotch shoemaker in Marikina. No less than Mrs. Imelda Marcos wore his shoes. He has what seemed to be the perfect life with his simple wife Leonor (Che Ramos) and spirited daughter Imelda (Barbie Forteza). When Romeo got involved with a female business partner, the stylish Tess (Bing Pimentel), tensions arise which would break his family apart.
There are so many excellent aspects about this remarkable film.
Of course, the acting of the two main players were amazing to witness as always. Mylene Dizon is so natural as the adult Imelda. She was more preoccupied with business concerns at work than the death of her father, for whom she could not seem to shed tears. Ricky Davao is as reliable as ever in a difficult role of balancing the clashing emotions of a father whose family is crumbling around him.
However, the performances of two supporting actresses actually become bigger highlights of this film. First is Bing Pimentel, who is a riveting presence, drawing attention every time she is onscreen. She was so classy as the younger Tess, and was absolutely sublime as elderly Tess. Second is Barbie Forteza, who gave a heart-tugging performance as the adolescent Imelda. That scene where she was left waiting in the restaurant by her parents was quietly eloquent, with only her eyes conveying her conflict of emotions.
The production design also deserves mention. Half of this film transpired in the late 1980s so it was essential to get the props and costumes right. The set showing the aftermath of the flooding brought about by the devastating Typhoon Unsang in 1988 was so hauntingly realistic. Painstaking attention to detail was evident in the way the exterior of the shoe factory was weathered and aged in the thirty years that had passed.
If this was an indie film done in a rush on a shoestring budget, it was not obvious at all. Director Milo Sogueco has transformed the screenplay of Jerrold Tarog into an elegant vision. The cinematography was clear with crisp colors with beautiful blocking and angles. A paler palette was used to distinguish the flashback scenes, with impressively clean film editing work.
"Mariquina" is definitely a serious contender in most categories among the New Breed entries come awards night for this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."