MANILA -- Last 2017, young writer-director Thop Nazareno made his Cinemalaya and feature film debut with "Kiko Boksingero." For the festival, it won best actor for then 12-year old Noel Comia, Jr., best supporting actress for Yayo Aguila and best original score for Pepe Manikan. The rest of the year, it was also consistently nominated in various award-giving bodies.
This year, Nazareno continues to explore the development of a young man's psyche, this time a boy in his mid-teens, in "Edward."
Happy-go-lucky teenager Edward (Louise Abuel) was left by his older half-brother Renato (Manuel Chua) to take care of their ill father Mario (Dido dela Paz) at a busy public hospital. He spent his days with his rascal friend Renz (Elijah Canlas), treating the hospital premises as their playground.
One day, nurse Daisy (Sarah Pacaliwagan-Brakensiek) asked Edward to watch over Agnes (Ella Cruz), an accident victim admitted without a watcher. When he was in her company, Edward's days in the hospital brightened up considerably, even as his father's condition did not seem to be improving.
Just like he did with Comia two years ago, Nazareno had discovered another goldmine in 15-year-old Louise Abuel (yes, he's male despite the spelling of his name). He began as a child actor (in the popular soap "100 Days to Heaven") but was inactive for some time during the awkward interim years, until he auditioned for and bagged this meaty lead role for his very first feature film.
As Edward, Abuel was as if just being himself, not obviously acting at all. Everything about this guy felt sincere, very natural and unpretentious, quite impressive for a new actor. His face was very expressive -- the discomfort of lying under his father's bed, the naughtiness of his hospital shenanigans with Renz, or that unmistakable twinkle in his eye whenever he was with Agnes. Being a minor, Edward was cruelly and helplessly trapped in a situation not of his making and beyond his control, and Abuel was able to reflect the unfairness of it all on his face.
Ella Cruz, 22, was playing against her usual sweet roles as the frank and street-smart mystery girl Agnes. Nazareno decided not to give us any details about her life, nor even about the accident which brought her into the hospital in the first place. Having no backstory, it was up to the audience to build up her story based on how the charming Cruz interpreted her character. Cruz and Abuel had a effective chemistry between each other, despite their squalid setting and situation (with the song "Dapithapon" featuring the unique vocals of Yan Abelardo playing in the background).
Dido de la Paz was hardly out of a bed for the whole film, coughing badly most of the time. But when it came to his dramatic moments, he can still deliver even if his lines were short and breathlessly delivered because of his pulmonary condition. Sarah Brakensiek was a scene-stealing riot every time she was onscreen as the loud and cheerful Nurse Daisy. She was so fun to watch, I wished she had more screen time. Sixteen-year-old indie film actor Elijah Canlas was also quite entertaining as Edward's bad influence friend Renz.
This film holds a special significance for me as someone who had trained in a tertiary public hospital. The continuous long tracking shots Nazareno used to show the sorry situation in the emergency room, and later in the wards, were so accurate in portraying the chaos which really existed in those places, based my own personal experience there. It was amazing to learn afterwards how they recreated the whole hospital from scratch with all those extras they needed to keep in line -- all this with a limited budget and 11 days of shooting.
The research that went to achieving documentary-like accuracy in those scenes made this film an effective statement against the state of public hospitals in our country now, and how our indigent countrymen have to put up with the less than ideal health care services. Imagine the frustration of waiting for three whole weeks in that humid crowded ward for the result of a single outsourced lab exam upon which your diagnosis and management depended on. It is sad, but it is the how it is now.
As of now, nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Production Design and Musical Score are inevitable, and it is certainly bound to bring home more than one major awards.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."