MMFF review: 'Isa Pang Bahaghari' surprises with shocking ending

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 03 2021 09:19 AM

Philip Salvador and Michael de Mesa in 'Isa Pang Bahaghari' 

Back when they were in high school, Reynaldo "Rhey" Torrecampo (Migs Almendras) and Illuminada "Lumen" Sanchez (Maris Racal) were best of friends. Rhey was an admirer of basketball jock Domingo "Dom" de los Santos (Albie Casino), who in turn was in love with Lumen. Rhey loved the two so much that he whole-heartedly volunteered to take care of Lumen while Dom trained from 1979 to 1981, and later, when he worked as a seaman abroad. In 2001, Dom's ship sank at sea near Mexico and he was assumed to be dead by everyone. 

Twenty years later, Dom (Philip Salvador), very much alive, suddenly came back home. He first went to see Rhey (Michael de Mesa), now working as a hairdresser and a drag performer. After explaining what happened during his very long absence, Dom asked to be brought to Lumen (Nora Aunor), now a cripple working on dried fish in a seaside town, so he can beg for forgiveness for abandoning her and their three children, namely Andy (Zanjoe Marudo), Peter (Joseph Marco) and Dolly (Sanya Lopez), all of whom now led troubled lives.

With Heaven's Best Entertainment Productions producing and Joel Lamangan directing, I could not help but suspect that "Isa Pang Bahaghari" was going to be a retread of Heaven Best's most successful film, "Rainbow Sunset" (2018). In both films, there were three senior characters involved, one gay in love with a straight male who was married to a straight female who was also a friend of the gay. The plotlines and their social statuses were not the same, of course, but there was also a terminal disease involved somewhere in there.

Having Nora Aunor as Lumen was, of course, the best draw of this film, and, as always, her passion can sear through the screen. Philip Salvador did his earnest best with his meaty role as the repentant Dom, even though his sob-story remained unconvincing and sketchy to the very end. It is just too bad that both of them were given lines which tended to be cliche, repetitive and unmemorable. Michael de Mesa had the showiest role as Rhey, and he played being gay effortlessly and with a sense of humor. 

The casting of Racal, Casino and Almendras seemed too random, as they looked nothing like their older counterparts Aunor, Salvador and de Mesa. Marudo, Marco and Lopez fared a little better acting-wise but their subplots (drug pusher bum, guy falsely accused of rape, beer-house GRO single mom) were already very familiar tropes in local soap operas and movies. Jim Pebanco played Lumen's brother Larry who was a barangay captain. Fanny Serrano played Toots, Rhey's gay dressmaker friend and fellow drag performer of Filipino folk songs. 

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As one can assume with the synopsis, anyone who watches Filipino dramas can already somehow predict how the whole story was going to run. Of course, initially it was expected that Dom was going to encounter a lot of bitter anger and resentment from Lumen and the three children. Before the movie ended, it was expected that the walls of resistance were eventually going to break down, all the individual problems will be solved, and the whole family will get back together again. 

However, screenwriter Eric Ramos and director Lamangan still had some surprises dropped along the way. One is the character of Cenen Espejo, a high school friend (Dave Bornea) who was now a wealthy bus tycoon (Lloyd Samartino). Another was a revisiting of a past sordid incident during a drunken stupor and the revelation of what really happened. 

But they saved the most incredible and most shocking surprise at the very end. Some people will call that ending bizarre or absurd or contrived or ridiculous, and I won't blame them.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."

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