Idiosyncratic Philippine drama about an aristocratic family in decline
This portrait of an aristocratic Philippine family in decline combines the weighty thematic concerns of Chekhov with the heightened melodramatic performance style of daytime television soap operas. When Gaspar, the elderly family patriarch and former politician, is hospitalised following a heart attack, his only daughter Raquel returns from self-imposed exile in America with her son Reinhardt and announces she intends to sell the ancestral home. The announcement comes as a shock to the rest of the family, who are reminded of their precarious existence on the poverty line. Among them are Gaspar’s 83-year-old sister Celia, a famous opera singer in her youth, who was hoping to live out her final years in the family home; Celia’s daughter Merced, who maintains the household; and Merced’s son Mombic, a failed businessman who is seeking work abroad. As the news widens the rifts between the various family members, Celia comes up with a desperate plan to awaken Gaspar, who has slipped into a coma, by convincing Mombic’s son Anthony to impersonate Saint Niño.
Directed by Loy Arcenas, who has a background in theatre, written by playwright Rody Vera, and performed by a fine ensemble cast, Niño impresses on a dramatic level. It’s also very accomplished on a technical level, with graceful cinematography, a minimalist score and meticulous editing. The gentility-gone-to-seed milieu is well realised, but beyond this Arcenas, who is a first time director, and Vera offer some universal insights on the nature of families in dysfunction.
Niño further highlights the diversity of filmmaking on view in EIFF’s new Philippine independent cinema section. It couldn’t be more different from, say, Khavn De La Cruz’s shanty town-set modern-day trash classic Mondomanila. But, in it’s own way, Niño is just as wonderfully idiosyncratic.
Showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival Mon 25 Jun.