There had been so many theater musicals that have made the transition to film. The first Filipino movie, "Dalagang Bukid" (Jose Nepomuceno, 1919) was based on a musical play, and so were several of the early Filipino films. Lately though, there had been a dearth of Filipino musical films, much less Filipino musical films derived from musical plays.
For some sheer coincidence, last year, there were two Filipino musical films, both based on Filipino musical plays! The film version of Rolando Tinio-Ryan Cayabyab's 1997 musical "Larawan" by Loy Arcenas won awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival in December. This one, the film version of Vincent de Jesus' "Changing Partners" was shown in the Cinema One Originals film festival as one of the feature films in competition.
Within the past two years, I had seen "Changing Partners" in all its incarnations. First in June 2016, it was a one-night only staged reading at the CCP as part of Virgin Labfest XII. Second, in September 2016, it was a full-length play produced by Munkeymusic staged at the PETA Theater. And now, it had already crossed over to the silver screen! I think this should count as one of the fastest film adaptations of a theater musical play ever.
I quote my own description of the plot as the screenplay was adapted from the book and libretto as is: "'Changing Partners' tells us about the love relationship of Alex and Cris, two individuals 15 years apart in age who decide to live together. It tells us about how their love story began and how it eventually evolved six years later. The twist of this ingenious script is that the roles of Alex and Cris can interchangeably be played by male and female actors such that the dynamics of the relationship also change significantly. Then again, it also shows that the outcome of such relationships may not really be that different after all, whatever the genders of the people involved."
Needless to say, I already know "Changing Partners" and its uniquely ingenious storytelling style very well. I know for a fact that Vincent de Jesus' words in both spoken dialogue and in the song lyrics were all impeccably chosen to convey their intended messages in the most heartbreaking ways possible. There was no doubt that these same words, all drawn from the deepest well of emotions possible, will resonate similarly well in movie form. I simply needed to see how director Dan Villegas will translate this intricate web of human relationships into the film medium.
The whole look of the film is beautiful and classy. The quality of the film, camera and colors is first rate. The four apartments where the four pairs of "Alex and Cris" lived were all stylish to look at. The editing for a film like this is one of paramount importance. This intertwined-intersecting story of eight separate characters portrayed by four actors needed to flow smoothly from pair to pair, and the fluid editing simply blurred the distinctions between each individual episode to create the coherent illusion of unity, no matter which gender preference the characters are.
Practically the whole film was shot in elegant close-ups of its cast of four actors -- Agot Isidro, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna and Sandino Martin (the same four actors in the full stage version) -- each one playing two distinct characters. Every little emotional nuance on their faces can be seen full on. This was one of the main advantages of a film version of a play, where audiences are at quite a distance away. With their faces magnified on that giant screen, all four actors truly bared all their heart and soul as they mouth those painful lines to each other and to us.
The highlight of the play was the climactic confrontation scene with all four actors on the stage at the same time. In the screen version, director Villegas weaved the scenes with all four actors alternatingly switching roles from one Alex to another, from one Cris to another so smoothly to create such a powerful unforgettable sequence. Sometimes you could not tell anymore which Alex and which Cris was singing, but it did not matter anymore. They were all one in the same pain. You simply could not pick one actor over another. This was a truly seamless ensemble in the pure sense of the word. 9/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."