Perceptive, galvanizing portrayals in ‘Niño’By Nestor U. Torre
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Aside from being a welcome opportunity for new filmmakers to find their voice and express themselves in cinema, the annual Cinemalaya festival provides major acting talents who don’t happen to be show biz “stars” a chance to tackle challenging roles they would otherwise not be given in “mainstream” movies, where they would be relegated to playing undemanding “support” or “cameo” parts.
Among the best portrayals we’ve seen in the 2011 edition of Cinemalaya are the performances in “Niño,” especially those turned in by Arthur Acuña and Racquel Villavicencio. We hear that Acuña is based in New York, but we hope that he can act more often here, because he’s a truly exceptional actor.
It’s instructive to observe that, at first glance, Acuña looks like an older sibling of Derek Ramsay—but, initial appearances are indeed deceptive, because he turns in a characterization that’s much more textured, informed and insightful than anything Ramsay has managed to create to date.
As the “black sheep” sibling in the movie’s “old-rich” family, Acuña goes to the very corroded soul of his character, enabling viewers to understand him in all of his many, occasionally contradictory dimensions.
Another “surprising” standout in “Niño” is Racquel Villavicencio, a veteran screenwriter who’s also dabbled in screen acting. We’ve caught a number of her portrayals in the past and have found them proficient, but not all that exceptional.
Well, in “Niño,” Villavicencio turns in her “career best,” thanks obviously to director Loy Arcenas’ perceptive mentoring. As Acuña’s first cousin who had a fling with him when he was only a teenager, the actress is a compelling screen presence as she dares to expose her character’s dark and complex motivations.
It is truly instructive to find Villavicencio in another Cinemalaya film, Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Bisperas,” and to be able to compare her portrayal there to her standout characterization in “Niño.”
In “Bisperas,” the actress comes up with another one of her proficient portrayals, but her performance in Arcenas’ film positively flares and coruscates with energy and insight.
A third portrayal in “Niño” that should be cited is that of the child actor who plays the film’s young title character. Unlike many local child performers who “act up a storm” and do their best—and worst—to delight viewers with their cute antics, the young actor plays his part simply, clearly and with complete believability.
It is a testament to the director’s ability to bring out the best in each of his actors that the three cast members cited here don’t hew to only one thespic “attack” in their portrayals, but employs a bracing variety of means in vivifying the characters they play.
This versatility in approach is even more evident when we include the other standout performances in the movie, which are positively prodigious in the richness and texture of the truly “ensemble” portraits they cumulatively create.
Otherwise known for his expertise in production design, Loy Arcenas shows in this film that he’s a standout “actors’ director,” as well.
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