Sunday Beauty Queen: Bittersweet montage instructs as much as it involves and entertains
The “sleeper” (unexpected) sensation at the recently concluded 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was its only full-length documentary, “Sunday Beauty Queen.”
Shot in Hong Kong, Baby Ruth Villarama’s real-life heart-tugger moved viewers deeply with its ensemble montage of OFWs’ tales of sacrifice and survival in the Crown Colony.
It makes the valuable contribution of giving a human, sometimes anguished face to the statistics of Filipinos slaving away at menial jobs in order to provide a better life for their loved ones in the Philippines.
Some of them don’t sufficiently appreciate the sacrifice involved—but, we daresay that, after watching this docu, those insensitive ingrates will henceforth value their selfless benefactors much more!
To its credit, the movie avoids the facile temptation to get bogged down in all of the misery, loneliness and pain it documents. It does this by leavening the misery with humor—a most Pinoy survival tactic and stress-reliever!
Indeed, stress relief and momentary escape into the fantasy world of beauty pageants is the contextualizing framework of the docu, with OFW-beauty tilt contestants’ individual tales making up its varied and emotionally accessible storytelling.
The filmmaker should be cited for being able to provide insightful focus and flow to so many back stories, and for smoothly shifting emotional and thematic gears.
The result is a bittersweet montage that instructs as much as it involves and entertains.
Also to be celebrated is the production’s ability to involve, not just its OFW “beauties,” but also some of their Chinese employers in its storytelling.
It must have been difficult to persuade them to participate in the filming, but the extra effort was well worth it, because it adds an extra dimension to the movie’s insights and conclusions.
Yes, some employers are unfeeling monsters, but there are others who value what domestic helpers do, and even make them a part of the family.
The most touching helper-employer relationship uncannily captured onscreen is that of an old movie producer and his Pinay “home manager.”
Most of the time, they have only each other for company, but they get along well—in their own small way “proving” that a compatible confluence of diverse cultures, “classes” and lifestyles is possible.
Capping this particular story with unexpected emotional unction is the fact that the employer passed away in the years-long course of shooting.
The film even includes deeply appreciative encomiums from the old man and one of his daughters that feelingly illustrate how an OFW’s stint abroad can be more than a job—from both sides of the relationship.
“Sunday Beauty Queen” does meander at times, some pageant sequences are overextended, and a few “lonely” walks and forlorn interludes overstay their welcome.
But, these indulgent moments and loose ends are minor distractions, and the film ends its complex storytelling on a triumphant note.
Even after the MMFF, it should continue to be screened throughout the country. More to the point, relatives of OFWs should watch it in droves, so they can belatedly and more fully realize the deep debt of gratitude they owe to their OFW parents and siblings, who have put their lives and happiness on hold out of love for them!
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