Culture

This restored Jay Ilagan classic is a one-of-a-kind portrait of the Filipino as ‘tumatandang binata’

What was it like being single in 1984? Not so different with being single in 2021, says this ECP classic.
Jerome Gomez | Jan 27 2021

The film came out in 1984, a pretty fantastic year in Philippine cinema, if you ask us. It had the big fan movies, from “Bagets” to “Bukas Luluhod Ang Mga Tala” to “Kaya Kong Abutin Ang Langit.” It had “Hotshots,” “Working Girls,” “May Lamok Sa Loob ng Kulambo,” “Lovingly Yours,” and “Sinner or Saint.” The year began with a komiks melodrama boasting a powerhouse cast—“Kung Mahawi Man Ang Ulap”—and ended with the first and the best of a horror franchise that will be around for decades—“Shake, Rattle and Roll.” 

Somewhere in the 140 or so Filipino movies produced that year was “Soltero,” singular in its quietness and restraint. Not that it wanted to be some kind of a difficult snob. It is about people looking for love, and how they fill the long stretch of days, months, years without it. How relatable is that? But it is its approach toward its subject that makes “Soltero” a rare gem, it’s realistic yet tender reflection on the Filipino single life never before seen in local films, and was never seen since. 

Here are a few more reasons why you must see “Soltero”:

Jay Ilagan is a worried bachelor at 29 in Pio de Castro's "Soltero." Image grabbed from the trailer of the restored version.

1. You have to meet Crispin Rodriguez.

Almost 30, single and looking for love. Or as your tita would say, “Magtetrenta na wala pa ring asawa.” He has a decent job, and a nice bachelor’s pad in Malate, at the Carmen Apartments along Roxas Boulevard. He’s up at the 27th floor, which gives him a great view of the city and Manila Bay. Crispin is not leading man material but works on himself with exercises. He’s nice and disente, a loving son, a caring tito. But why is he alone?

It’s been seven years since his last relationship. He hasn’t moved on. Her name is Christine (Rio Locsin). Crispin visits her sometimes. Sometimes he just parks his car outside her house. But not in a stalker kind of way, although that's easily equivalent to stalking in this day and age. Most of the time he’s with friends, trying out bars, watching plays. Or he’s at home feeding his goldfish, having a beer, trying to get back into painting, filling up a life that seems unbearably empty without an other. 

 

2. You have to see Jay Ilagan do Crispin.

It is a role unlike any other male character in Filipino movies at the time, where men are expected to be either philanderers or underdogs who become killing machines. 

Jay appears in 258 of the 262 sequences in “Soltero.” We read that in an old article in TV Times somewhere. We also read that "Soltero" is Jay's only other solo picture in his career. Though immensely talented, according to the same writeup, Jay had difficulty keeping the extra weight off. So the plum roles would go to other actors. Like Boyet. “You know there’s one actor better than I am,” Christopher De Leon once said, “who should be given a chance to do good assignments and whom people should see in movies—Jay Ilagan.” 

In “Soltero,” Jay gives Crispin the sensitivity and dignity the character deserves, understanding the quiet heroism of men forging on with life despite the weight of solitude combined with the random disappointments of existence. 

 

3. It is one of two movies Pio de Castro III directed in his lifetime.

The other one is the komiks drama, “Ina, Kasusuklaman Ba Kita?” Pio joined the movies not through the production side but as a critic—he was one of the original members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. He invested “Soltero” with a remarkable sophistication and confident grasp of film language, building on the solid, semi-autobiographical screenplay by the acclaimed playwright Bienvenido Noriega. 

Crispin with his barkada at the Deaf Mute restaurant in Luneta. From left: Terrie Legarda, Bing Davao and Dick Israel.

4. Seeing Manila circa ‘84. 

When Pinoys were already bar-hopping, climbing up to Baguio and staying at Hyatt, watching movies at the Manila Film Center, and enjoying plays at Rajah Sulayman in Fort Santiago—afterwhich they have a nightcap at the Deaf-Mute outdoor canteen in Luneta. 

Rip Locsin plays the hopelessly in love Christine.

5. The great supporting cast

That includes Chanda Romero, Baby Delgado, Irma Potenciano, Mona Lisa, and Rio Locsin who plays Christine, the object of Crispin’s undying affection but who is in love with the father of her child—a married man. People are not only lonely in this picture, they’re also very stubborn. 

Crispin skecthes her mother played by Irma Potenciano.

6. It's newly restored.

It has just been digitally restored and remastered by ABS-CBN Film Restoration’s Sagip Pelikula program. Multiple copies of the film were already in the custody of the network but were discovered to be in such bad shape that while the film was scanned in Italy in 2016, the entire process of restoration was completed only last year. 

Jay and Chanda in a pivotal scene shot at the then relatively new Manila Film Center.

7 . That letter Jay reads in the end.

Because while it’s addressed to his family who has left him for a new life abroad, it really speaks to the many Crispins we know and the Crispin inside us: human beings who persevere to be good, and decent, despite the complexities life brings and the realities of being alone. Again, a lot of people are lonely in this movie, but they show they have hope just by existing. “Para sa lahat ng mga nagsisikap lumigaya, bagaman nag-iisa,” Crispin writes. “At sa mga may katambal na, ngunit nagsasarili pa rin."

[“Soltero” will have it’s digital premier this Thursday, January 28, at 7:30PM.]

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