Ang Larawan and the Filipino artists

Joanna Ampil and Rachel Alejandro as Candida and Paulo in Ang Larawan. The film's birth pains were reminiscent of the plight of the Marasigan sisters.


The songs in Ang Larawan -- beautifully directed and recreated by Loi Arcenas -- are hardly hummable after you have watched it.

But its powerful message is not lost to discerning moviegoers moved by the libretto of National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio.

As singer Dulce (she played Donya Upeng in the film) described the music, “Maestro Ryan Cayabyab's music for me is not the kind that will conjure images of tears and pain.His music carries you out of your present situation, shows you the bigger picture, gives you a choice, and brings you back to where you started and there you decide whether to laugh or cry, to live or die. In short, it was a big challenge for singers to find its essence.”

Based on Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of the Artist as Filipino which is basically an elegy in three scenes, the film version of the play-turned-musical has its share of poignant moments as you reflect on the fate of spinsters Paula and Candida (played by Rachel Alejandro and Joanna Ampil) as they cope with the materialistic scheme of their brother and sister (Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Lauchengco) and the ever-shrewd Tony Javier (played brilliantly by Paulo Avelino).

The precious painting of their father (Lorenzo Marasigan) is the bone of contention of the protagonists.For the family, it is the symbol of artistic excellence and thus, they hang on to it even if art collectors offer to buy it at a good price.

Selling it would mean a much better life for the sisters who hang on to their ancestral house even if their brother and sister are offering a better place to live in.

On the other hand, the film gives us a beautiful portrait of old world charm, of good manners and decorum now slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Joanna Ampil. Photo from Ang Larawan website.


Sadly, the plight of the Marasigan sisters finds present day equivalent on the plight of the producers who must fight every inch of their lives to keep the project alive. The film lost 15 theaters on the first few days of the festival but gained back more than 70 theaters after the awards night.

The sight of the great painter’s daughters woefully coping with bills is a reflection on how artists still live today. And to even consider catching rats and giving piano lessons to survive is the supreme irony and tragedy of the Filipino artists.

After watching Larawan, conductor and MSO executive director Jeffrey Solares noted that in the play is a painting that is described but is never shown. “It is actually the opening scene of Virgil’s epic Aeneid, a classic subject in Western art and mythology. Aeneas, a Trojan soldier, tries to escape the burning city of Troy and carries his old father on his back. In his play, Nick Joaquin uses that scene as an allegory to describe the fate and plight of the artists here in our country. To be an artist in the Philippines is to live a life of sacrifice. It means to carry something so precious, so delicate, so spiritual, so historic, so grand, on your back amidst an environment that no longer values the importance of things of the spirit; an environment that do not value its own legacy, its own history, its own rich cultural heritage; an environment rife with commercialism, an environment that values popularity over substance.”

Paulo Avelino as Tony Javier. Photo from Ang Larawan website.


A few days after winning the Best Actress trophy in the 43rd Metro Manila Film Festival (as Candida in Ang Larawan), Joanna Ampil talked to the media before she flew to Hong Kong to resume world tour of Cats where she plays Grizabella.

Asked how it was singing Grizabella in a world tour and then being asked to sing Candida for the musical’s film version, she knew it would involve hard work. “Remember I tried to quit in this project twice but then my producers really believed I could do it. There was no way I could back out. I suppose I was destined for this role,” she said.

Singing the role of an animal and a human being was a contrasting experience.From a spinster singing of a happy past in“Huling Oktobre” to a cat singing Memory required a lot of focus. “Of course, it was easy to sing the part in Larawan but to act it as well was the supreme but extremely difficult challenge. I got big help from colleague Jake Macapagal who also acted on film and my self-confidence improved. I really have to focus a lot from the way I look, the way I sound and the way I should react with the characters of my co-actors.”

Like it or not, Ang Larawan is a poignant allegory on the plight of artists trying to survive in the changing world before the war.

In the film, Candida (Ampil) bravely faced the consequence of not selling their father’s painting and told her sister they can give piano lessons and catch rats on the side just to survive.

Asked how she felt delivering that line, Ampil intimated she felt the pathos of it all. “Of course, it is a difficult choice for the character determined to survive no matter what. What I did was to deliver it with conviction to make audiences feel the character could do it. It is a painful decision when you have to give piano lessons and catch rats on the side. You just have to imagine yourself in such a situation to make it all believable.”

Tertulya scene. Photo from the Ang Larawan website.


It is no laughing matter when a millennial writer asked a follow up question which went thus: who does she think is better at catching rats: Candida or Grizabella (her role in Cats)?

She bursts into laughter as she re-figures out her role as a stage cat and a human being.

Funny or not, Ang Larawan is both a symbol and an allegory of Art vs. Commerce and what New York Times reviewer Anita Gates described as an “engaging, well plotted metaphor for the passing of Old Manila."

Ang Larawan still showing in selected theaters. It stars Rachel Alejandro, Paulo Avelino, Dulce, Celeste Legazpi, Jaime Fabregas, Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo, among others.

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