An elegant and moving portrait of loss, regret and forgiveness.
The suicide of a Filipina factory owner’s father is the impetus for personal reflection and forgiveness in Mariquina, an occasionally uneven but largely moving exploration of loss and regret saved from mawkish manipulation by its strong central performances. Taken within the landscape of the Philippines’ re-emergent cinema, Mariquina is universal in its subject matter and accessible in its production.
Director Milo Sogueco revisits the themes of his first film, The Pawnshop, to a degree, this time using a father’s single-minded but well-intentioned careerism as the springboard for exploring the impact of all kinds of loss on average lives. A bit too long and fundamentally flawed on a storytelling level, Mariquina, nonetheless, is a subdued and sensitive film that should find an extended life on the festival circuit and with Asian-focused events in particular looking for more everyday, urban material from the Philippines.
As a regular workday begins at her garment factory Imelda Nunez (Mylene Dizon, and as a high school student, Barbie Forteza) gets a visit from the police informing her that her father Romeo (Ricky Davao) is dead. What follows is the few crucial days where Imelda remembers her relatively happy, then turbulent and finally non-existent relationship with her master shoemaker dad as she looks for the perfect wingtips in which to bury him. As a kid Imelda and Romeo got along like any proud father and daughter, even if she got tired of shoes for birthdays. When her mother Leonor (Che Ramos) declares she doesn’t love Romeo anymore and leaves them both to finally make a life for herself, things begin to fall apart. The proverbial straw comes in the form of Tess (Bing Pimentel), Romeo’s business partner and eventual lover. Imelda leaves Marikina to join her mother in Hawaii and barely makes time for him when she returns as an adult.
Aside from Imelda recalling events that she was not present to witness (a classic flashback snafu) Sogueco and writer Jerrold Tarog craft an intensely resonant and bittersweet slice of life about an adult child, in many ways, finally growing up and learning to forgive—albeit too late. Mariquina is littered with little moments that add up to a significant whole in relation to the disintegration of a family bond: Romeo overhearing Imelda tell her mother how unhappy she is in his house, Imelda refusing to even humor Tess and let her try to be something of a stepmother, a teen Imelda being excluded from helping her father in the factory after a flood. This is an unabashedly emotional film, and it wouldn’t be nearly as heartbreaking as it is without model and television actress Dizon’s nuanced and dignified performance as the prickly Imelda. Dizon toggles between grief, confusion and guilt while trying to keep it together, at least outwardly. When she does finally break down—alone—it’s simultaneously sad and cathartic. Forteza matches her as the younger Imelda, channeling uncomprehending teen angst flawlessly. Tarog should be applauded for avoiding shrew territory with Tess, an easy character to make into a caricature, and Sogueco and cinematographer Sasha Palomares for impeccable visual language that speaks when Imelda and Romeo do not. And yes, the Philippines’ first lady of footwear, Imelda Marcos, has a brief, attention-grabbing cameo.