Netflix review: 'Finding Agnes' surprises as one of the best Pinoy films of 2020

Fred Hawson

Posted at Dec 02 2020 06:32 AM

Jelson Bay and Sue Ramirez in a scene from 'Finding Agnes.' Handout

Wealthy businessman Virgilio "Brix" Rivero (Jelson Bay) was abandoned by his mother Agnes (Roxanne Guinoo) when he was still a child. Twenty-five years later, his mother (now played by Sandy Andolong) visited him unannounced during a busy day at work. However, before they even got a chance to reconnect, Agnes passed away just as suddenly from a stroke. He discovered that his dad and stepmother Gloria had not been giving Agnes' monthly letters from Morocco, where she ran her own Brines' Bed and Breakfast in Marrakesh. 

In her will, Agnes wanted her ashes to brought back to Brines to be buried, so Brix flew her urn there to fulfill her wishes. There he met the manager Cathy Duvera (Sue Ramirez), whom Agnes loved like her own daughter. As Brines was bequeathed to him, Brix wanted to quickly sell the property off so he can get back to his business in Manila. Meanwhile, Brix and Cathy still needed to fulfill Agnes' final wish to return a certain figurine to Regina Castor (Dexter Doria), which led him on a road trip to know his mother more. 

Vertically- and follicularly-challenged comedian Jelson Bay is probably the last actor you'd think would headline this film, but there he was confidently portraying a character which would usually be played by leading men like Piolo Pascual or Ian Veneracion. After the initial shock of seeing and hearing him as Brix, he slowly settled into the part, accent and all. Of course, there will be scenes when Bay would slip comfortably into this comedic shoes. I commend the script for not ever bringing up his physical appearance at anytime. His looks simply did not matter. 

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Sue Ramirez tones down the quirks here as the devoted Cathy and, as always, she was very classy and likable with her winsome smile and kind spirit. She was delivering her Arabic lines with so much fluidity, you'd think she had been speaking this language all her life. Seeing Ramirez standing in sharp contrast with Bay in potentially romantic situations, there was a need to take a momentary pause to suspend our disbelief. Again, I commend the script for not going there to force the issue. 

There were some beautifully shot scenes here taking full advantage of the exotic Moroccan architecture and interior design, just like that dramatically-lit scene on the stairs where Brix and Cathy had their final conversation. Production design and Ramirez's costume designer also deserve commendation for providing local charm and color. There were a couple of Moroccan actresses who provided the film moving emotional moments, like the lady at the women's sanctuary and the woman celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. 

While Aileen Kessop's previous screenplay for the Aga Muhlach-Alice Dixson Greenland-based thriller "Nuuk" (2019) felt over-dark and overwrought, this new one was marked with remarkable lightness, simplicity and no melodrama. Director Marla Ancheta took a huge risk it was to cast Bay so much against his usual type, but it actually turned out to be a most fortuitous decision. Instead of becoming just a typical foreign-set rom-coms, Ancheta imbued this project with so much refreshing sincerity and heart that it emerges as one of the year's best films. 

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

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