Nora, Gina and Jaclyn’s provocative dramatic synergy in ‘Pieta’

Nora, Gina and Jaclyn’s provocative dramatic synergy in ‘Pieta’

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:25 AM January 08, 2024

Nora Aunor-Gina Alajar-Jaclyn Jose ‘Pieta’

Nora Aunor                                                         Gina Alajar                                                          Jaclyn Jose

Surprise for its own sake isn’t always a virtue. But Adolf Alix Jr.’s “Pieta,” which will have special screenings tomorrow (at 2:10 and 6:45 p.m.) and on Wednesday (at 4:45 and 9:20 p.m.) at Cinema ’76, trusts enough in its unique themes and visually delectable setting to forgo a descent into cheap narrative thrills as its tale winds down to unexpected twists.

On the surface, it would be easy to imagine the production’s screwy plot to settle awkwardly into a coherent story—about convicted felon Isaac Bernabe (Alfred Vargas) who finds himself needing to come to terms with his violent past after he is set free by an unexpected pardon.


But with a trio of superlative actresses, namely Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar and Jaclyn Jose, sinking their thespic teeth and working their magic through meaty scenes, the film manages to avoid getting stuck in ponderous schmaltz.


In the movie, Isaac has been in prison since he was 16 years old. But after serving 18 years of his life sentence for killing his father (Alan Paule), he’s given a new lease on life and a chance to dig deep into a lot of unanswered questions about the tragic crime he has little recollection of.

Unsettling chemistry

With the help of fellow inmate Francis (Bembol Roco), Isaac sets out to get answers from two women who hold the key to his dysfunctional family’s deep, dark secrets—his visually impaired mother Rebecca (Nora Aunor, with Angeli Bayani playing the younger character) and her best friend, Beth (Gina Alajar).

The task is easier said than done, however, because the former is weighed down further by Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Rebecca, while often wishing to be with her estranged son, doesn’t even recognize the handsome but mysterious stranger who shows up at her house. Meanwhile, Beth, who keeps a lot of things close to her chest, is no help either.

But everything comes to a head when a vengeful mother (Jaclyn Jose) comes crashing into Isaac’s newfound domestic bliss and shakes Rebecca out of her illness-induced apathy.

With a tone that lurches between earnest drama and a gritty whodunit, the film produced by Alternative Vision Cinema and Noble Wolf relies on its cast’s unsettling chemistry, a potent cinematic combo that holds the story in perfect stasis between drama and horror. And while the production is occasionally compromised by a meandering progression, Alix and screenwriter Jerry Gracio manage to mine a story that plays well to the actresses’ strengths.



While we would have wanted a sprightlier and more “mobile” character for Ate Guy, we all know that the National Artist doesn’t need to do much to convey a plethora of soul-stirring emotions. As expected, she delivers a measured performance that never feels too technically calibrated. Moreover, she gets to “character-sing” portions of her dramatic highlights via the Kapampangan folk song, “Atin Cu Pung Singsing.”


Jaclyn, on the other hand, proves why an actress of her prodigious caliber—she is the only Filipino to win an acting award at Cannes (for “Ma’ Rosa”), after all—doesn’t need wordy exposition to express her motives.

As for the much-missed Gina, who’s been focusing on directing lately, we’re only too happy to see her in a “twisty” role that only she can pull off (no spoilers here, but you’ll understand her raison d’etre when you watch the film). As Beth, you can feel palpable passion and fire tempered with what seems like maternal or sisterly concern. Or is it something else?

Theatrically compelling

We recall that we were in Davao when “Monday First Screening,” Gina’s recent starrer with Ricky Davao, was released in August/September. And we were glad we took the 70-kilometer trip to the nearest cinema showing the film, a rom-com for mature actors. Needless to say, she was unforgettable even when cast against type!

As he copes with the nightmares of his character’s sketchy past, Alfred, handsomely photographed in this dramatic thriller, more than holds his own despite some awkwardly limned sequences—a feat in itself given the impossible standards set by his exceptional “leading ladies.”

With a homestretch that is as shocking as it is undeniably powerful, we see “Pieta’s” formidable ensemble elevating weaker scenes and escalating tension, filling out a story that, while peppered with carefully calibrated portrayals, should have had more moments of potent drama worthy of its actors’ skill and thespic stamina.

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Having said that, there’s a lot to absorb and appreciate in “Pieta’s” thematically compelling tale, but the textured and finely tuned portrayals of Nora, Gina and Jaclyn make this succulently photographed production a must-see for Filipino film enthusiasts. Each performance in this small gem of an indie complements the others in an odd bit of synergy—and that’s all to the good. INQ

TAGS: Entertainment, Nora Aunor

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