Filipino actress Nora Aunor works best with Filipino filmmaker Mario O'Hara.
There, I've said it. Oh, Aunor--a multimedia, multi-awarded giantess in the '70s and '80s--has done excellent work with other directors (Bona (1980) with Lino Brocka, Himala with Ishmael Bernal, Merika (1984) with Gil Portes, but arguably her finest films were with O'Hara (Condemned (1984); Bulaklak sa City Jail (Flowers of the City Jail, 1984); the great Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976). If Brocka had his favorite actors (Philip Salvador, Gina Alajar) and Bernal his (Vilma Santos, Maricel Soriano), O'Hara's is possibly Nora.
|O'Hara & Aunor: Stellar tandem|
Talk about pitiless, O'Hara and Aunor have not worked with each other for some twenty-four years, and time has taken its toll--O'Hara has gained a mane of white hair, Aunor's expression has grown solemn, even careworn. The actress has spent almost eight years out of the country, in seeming exile, trailed along the way by stories of bankrupt finances and a drug possession charge. Now she's come home, and judging by all the media fuss she seems bigger than ever, and we (at least those who've never really forgotten) wait with bated breath for the results of their first collaboration in decades. Will lightning strike yet again? Is the magic still there?
It is. Sa Ngalan ng Ina (In the Name of the Mother) is that rare creature in Philippine television, the political melodrama. Longer and more complex soap operas have been mounted on Philippine television before, and politics has been touched upon before, but far as I can recall there has never been a series (the exact name of the genre is, I believe, the teleserye) fully driven by politics, hinging upon the election into office and subsequent administration of the main character. This particular production will run for only the month of October--meaning the production budget (which is lavish) can be and has already been measured out, and the storyline guaranteed, more or less, not to run out of gas (a common complaint, apparently about many a teleserye--that they have overstayed their welcome).
Philippine elections have traditionally been a chaotic affair, to put it mildly; I'd call it a cross between an endless town rally and a three-ring circus, with the occasional rival-gang shootout interrupting the festivities. The idea of setting a melodrama during a province's gubernatorial elections is, to put it mildly, genius--the marriage of tone and substance makes such perfect sense it's a wonder no one's ever thought of it before. Complex machinations and even more complex plot twists? Nefarious treacheries and lurid sex? Vicious confrontations among political rivals, long-time friends, blood brothers? Torture, car chases, assassination attempts? Either you're watching a lengthy melodrama (with a Hollywood-sized budget I'm guessing The Godfather, Part 1 and 2) or it's election season in the Philippines, baby; don't forget to wear a raincoat (for the mudslinging and spittle) over your bullet-proof vest.
This is familiar territory for O'Hara; his Bagong Hari (The New King, 1986) is set in a large and powerful (if fictional) province, where two rival factions vie for the position of governor of the land. The fictional province is Manila, the office of governor a stand-in for the office of President of the Philippines; the relatively small-scale struggle (relatively; I thought O'Hara had wrought a rarity among noir films--the noir epic) served as metaphor for the nationwide struggle to wrest power away from former president Ferdinand Marcos.