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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

entry arrow1:47 AM | Santa Santita in the New York Times

The film critic Ned Martel reviews Laurice Guillen's Santa Santita, now retitled -- are you ready for this? -- Magdalena, the Unholy Saint (ew! ew!) in his article "Young Lovers and Miracles." It's a slightly glowing review, better than the last year's Crying Ladies in the same paper:

As two young lovers open their hearts to each other in a poor district of Manila, they keep the darker sides of their souls hidden. Malen, short for Magdalena, is the daughter of a devout intercessor, a priestly surrogate who offers auxiliary prayers for paying sufferers. Behind her mother's back, the young girl sells religious badges as a means of meeting men. Mike is a suave Filipino Jean-Paul Belmondo, who offers wealthy tourists rides for hire as well as other services.

Soon Malen adopts her mother's vocation, out of necessity if not belief. The other intercessors snipe at the comely newcomer. "This is blasphemy," says one of Malen's new colleagues, who is aware of the tension between mother and daughter. "She is defiling prayer." But then some of those who pay Malen to pray find that their needs are met, their problems solved. A child with a hole in its heart is suddenly healed, and no one is more stunned than Malen. One woman, a doubter of Malen's virtue, asks the movie's central question: "How can a good saint enter a harlot's body?"

The shadowy love story is wearyingly eventful, packed with death by illness, road rage and a broken heart. Mystical Roman Catholic imagery pervades the opening and a later dream sequence, when the feverish Malen endures visions of stigmata on her hands and feet. In scenes that feel like biblical allusions, she lays her hands on the feet first of her wily boyfriend and then of a blessed nun. Still, neither act of kindness seems quite analogous to the simple cleansing of Jesus' feet by Mary Magdalene, the original prostitute-turned-saint.

The actress and director Laurice Guillen, who won international notice for her direction of the 1981 film
Salome, here leads two gifted actors, Angelica Panganiban and Jericho Rosales, through the gloomy Quiapo district of Manila. Early on, the narrative is quite skeptical of the intercessors. These women come off as latter-day indulgence peddlers who scold the young girl for any steps she takes toward self-discovery. Priests prove to be blind to miracles and consumed by their own appetites. Then, when Malen's special gifts emerge, she feels guilty about her new powers and determined to use them to win a man, a ploy akin to her selling of the badges.

The aim of the filmmaker seems unclear, with Magdalena at first celebrated for her humanness and then exalted for her sudden saintliness.
Magdalena relies on the magical-realism aspects of religious devotion, even though it began as a story more firmly, and admirably, rooted in a gritty reality.

Read it here, if you want.

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich