We expect nothing less than a bountiful harvest of quality films when the ninth edition of Cinemalaya unreels on July 26. But, the movie to see this week is Veronica Velasco’s alternately heart-warming and heartbreaking anthology, “Tuhog,” featuring an impressive number of career-best portrayals from its talented cast—and thus far the finest local film we’ve seen this year.
On paper, the movie’s premise initially seems frivolous, especially because of its deceptively light-and-perky tone—but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. After all, how do you spin a cohesive yarn out of themes as disparate as a senior citizen’s existential crisis, an unlikely romance between a bus driver and his humorless barker, and a teenager’s sexual frustrations without risking incoherence?
Fiesta Dacanay (Eugene Domingo), Tonio Sucat (Leo Martinez) and Caloy Sicat (Enchong Dee), “Tuhog’s” three protagonists, don’t even know each other—but, they find themselves in grave danger when they’re literally skewered together by a metal pole during a traffic accident. As their lives hang in the balance, Velasco examines the circumstances leading to the accident and the events that transpire thereafter.
The children of newly retired Tonio believe that their heretofore reliable patriarch has gone nuts when he decides to spend his life savings on his lifelong dream of becoming a baker—unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to bake! With his skeptical but supportive wife (Carla Martinez) beside him, Tonio must prove that he’s not just chasing after a pipe dream. How does he keep himself relevant at 60—and beyond?
For her part, Fiesta has had a difficult life—and it shows. As her cruel alcoholic father, Carding (Noel Trinidad), would tell you, his daughter is hard to love. She’s tough, unfriendly, uncompromisingly efficient, and plain-looking—and she’s haunted by the traumatic memory of the negligent mother who left her when she was 5. But, her hardened, middle-aged heart finally thaws when she meets young and sensitive Nato (Jake Cuenca). —Is he too good to be true?
Caloy is a sexually frustrated virgin—but he intends to change that when he and his girlfriend, Angel (Empress) celebrate their first anniversary as a couple. Unfortunately, their long-distance relationship (he’s in Manila, she’s in Dumaguete) is making it harder to stay faithful to each other.
With its heart ruling its head, Velasco’s movie follows its characters’ divergent stories with uncommon insight and precision as she effectively juggles the film’s many dramatic and comedic scenes with aplomb. These tales ooze with warmth, humor, tragedy, and unalloyed humanity—and you’ll find yourself relating to situations that never feel contrived or manipulative.
Domingo’s character is a tough nut to crack, but the versatile actress’ sharp focus and unpredictable acting choices keep Fiesta watchable and empathetic —leavened further by an impish wit that doesn’t call attention to itself.
Cuenca may be too good-looking for his role, but he delivers a perfectly calibrated portrayal—a career-best—that mirrors Everyman’s truth and real-world grit.
In a role that suits him to a T, Dee displays his evolving acting chops as a sex-starved youth. Empress, Rodjun Cruz, Joe Vargas and Mary Ann Espinosa (as their wacky history professor) also deliver the thespic goods.
In his most significant and effectively idiosyncratic portrayal to date, Martinez makes his crowd-pleasing antics work wonders for him. His deeply “relatable” characterization is a stirring evocation of every Filipino’s love of family—and his yearning for affirmation!