After years of planning and development, “Ang Larawan” has finally made its way to a commercial showing nationwide as an official entry to the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival come Christmas Day. The now-finished film, initially rejected during the first round of the festival’s script selection last July, is a film adaptation of the celebrated musical based on the classic play, “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” by the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.
Set in 1941 in Intramuros, Manila the story of Larawan tells of how two sisters, Candida and Paula—daughters of high-profile painter Don Lorenzo Marasigan—defiantly hold on to their father’s precious painting, and how their handsome boarder Tony Javier convinces them to change their minds and sell the artwork to an American.
Culturtain Musicat Productions Inc., mounted by longtime friends, talent manager Girlie Rodis and singer-actress Celeste Legaspi, brings to life this passion project in the grandest way, gathering a bevy of the finest Filipino singers and musicians ever assembled for a local motion picture.
Heading the all-star cast are: West End sensation Joanna Ampil as Candida, multi-awarded recording star Rachel Alejandro as Paula, and acclaimed heartthrob Paulo Avelino as Tony Javier. Generously lending their support are OPM stalwarts led by Legaspi herself, Dulce and Nanette Inventor; luminaries of film and stage Robert Arevalo, Nonie Buencamino, Menchu-Lauchengco-Yulo, Noel Trinidad, Leo Rialp and Bernardo Bernado; veteran actor and musical director Jaime Fabregas; young showbiz, recording and theater stars Aicelle Santos, Cris Villonco, Cara Manglapus, Jojit Lorenzo and Rayver Cruz; and in very special roles, OPM icons Ogie Alcasid and Zsa Zsa Padilla.
At the film’s press preview on December 7, Legaspi said that choosing the impressive cast was very critical.
“When we were casting, our film director Loy Arcenas was very particular about age–the person should not be too young or too old for the role and everything should be exact, so matagal naming pinagisipan ‘yun. But [the cast member]doesn’t have to be really, really good at singing but only needs to have the heart, wisdom and compassion for the project. Kung masyadong maganda ang boses mo baka lang makasira or ma-overpower ang iba,” she added.
According to Legaspi, this venture is the first time she and Rodis decided to adapt a stage musical into film. Musical Theater Philippines’ (now Culturtain Musicat Productions Inc.) first original musical was “Katy!” in 1988, followed by “Kenkoy Loves Rosing” in 1991, “Alikabok” in 1995, “Sino Ka Ba Jose Rizal” in 1996, “Ang Larawan” in 1997, “Fire Water Woman” in 1999 and “Saranggola ni Pepe” in 2000.
“The reason we decided to turn Larawan into a film is that some time ago, we observed there was a dearth of Filipino movies to offer in schools. We saw the need for the creation of relevant and educational viewing for students. Together with Rachel [Alejandro], who joined us in our producing endeavor, we were thinking of Ang Larawan for the big screen because we felt this musical can be an alternative to the mainstream romantic comedies, horror movies and such flicks,” Legaspi further explained.
Besides providing school with viewing material with educational and cultural value, Larawan is ultimately the group’s effort to preserve the great works of Filipino artists so that the youth can learn, cherish and enriched by Filipino history and culture.
“This movie is 20 years in the making…actually 50 years, because it started with the play of Nick Joaquin from the 1950s and then it became a musical in 1997. And from that moment [Larawan’s last outing] I was instantly in love with the music and its words. I have never forgotten it until now; it was such a beauty. Now two decades later, we are happy that we really pushed ourselves to share an obra maestra with the rest of the Filipino people by turning it into a film,” Alejandro, meanwhile, related.
It was National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio who wrote a libretto for Larawan the musical, and this time for the film, celebrated composer Ryan Cayabyab set it into music it for the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra to perform.
“My style is, I will read the script and kung ano ang natural na pagsalita, ‘yun ang ilalagay ko na melody–kung pataas ba or mababa. I just want to say that one-third of the original, I wrote in the US when I was in vacation. I think wherever I am I’m able to put on a different texture in the music,” said the maestro.
“The music here in the film is different when it comes to the play, because like I said, here we have the entire orchestra; in the play, they only had a six-piece. That’s why sabi ko nagawa ko lahat ang pwede kong gawin because the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra is 42-piece. Plus, the film has rare instances wherein actors have lines to deliver and then they will sing. There are no effects in the voices. Pinagaralan ng masusi lahat,” he recalled.
Meanwhile, according to Legaspi, the film took about two years of postproduction, while completing the subtitles took eight months to do.
“We actually did the rehearsal for a year as well. Hirap na hirap kami but we enjoyed the whole process,” Legaspi said.
“That’s why what we want is puntahan talaga ng mga tao ito – lumuha sila, tumawa and also sing along. We would love to win awards in the film festival so that we can still make more films. Marami kaming original Filipino musicals and our dream is mailagay sila sa film. Kung maging matagumpay ang Ang Larawan, we’ll work on more,” promised Legaspi.
Ang Larawan, which already received endorsements from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), recently had its World Premiere at the 30th Tokyo Int’l Film Festival on October 25. One of the audience members who saw the film was Richard Kuipers, a film critic for Variety magazine, who described the film as “beautifully decorated and top-notch in every technical detail.” He even went to say it was “clearly made with utmost love and care.”
Kuipers further praised the performance of Ampil and Alejandro as sisters Candida and Paula. He rounded up his evaluation by remarking that Tinio’s lyrics and Cayabyab’s musical direction created a “highly effective atmosphere of doom, gloom and family turmoil before offering a ray of light.”