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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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Sunday, June 02, 2013

entry arrow12:52 AM | The Passionate Strangers

I've heard of The Passionate Strangers (1966) since I first began taking an interest in the works of the later director and National Artist for Film Eddie Romero -- and especially after being told that the director of such Filipino classics as Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon and Aguila was not only from Dumaguete, but was also, like myself, a Sillimanian. To be told that as a young cineaste was quite galvanizing: it suddenly the dream of being a filmmaker myself a possibility, its remoteness once or twice removed. I began to ask: if he was from Dumaguete, had he ever shot a film in Dumaguete? He did, with Kamakalawa, I was told.

Later on, I also stumbled on the fact that Mr. Romero had shot an even earlier film in the city as well as nearby Bais. That was the film noir The Passionate Strangers, which starred American actors Michael Parsons and Valora Noland, alongside a Filipino cast that included Celia Rodriguez, Vic Diaz, Butz Aquino, and Mario Montenegro. (Oh, to behold the naughty lines and flirtations between Ms. Rodriguez's femme fatale and Mr. Aquino's straight-arrow public attorney, and to see Mr. Diaz's magnificent star-turn as a snaky politician who who does his dirty maneuverings with such finesse...)

Naturally, I was intrigued. But a viewing copy of the film proved elusive for so long, until now: somehow one found its way recently to YouTube, and now I can finally say I've seen this early Eddie Romero classic, not exactly in quality form -- but for now, this will do.

And what can I say about it? Only this: the film is one of Mr. Romero's best and deserves restoration effort, if only for the gorgeous photography by Justo Paulino that renders beautifully the peculiarities of Dumaguete in the 1960s. There is also the taut story by Cesar Amigo, Reuben Canoy, and Eddie Romero (Sillimanians all), and the topnotch acting -- mostly in English -- by the cast, who seemed to improve on the iconic performances from Hollywood movies of this kind. (It reminded me of a mishmash of From Here to Eternity and Touch of Evil...)

The story goes: an accidental murder of a labor leader has been committed in a town dominated by an American-owned mill, and labor riots follows, ending in a court case that seems to corner the American CEO of that company into a sure guilty verdict. But that makes it sound like a socio-political thriller, which is far from the case. What you really have here is a tense domestic melodrama peopled by characters of such remarkable complexity: the murderer, for example, may be the only man in the film who has any integrity, and the crusading investigator is, in this case, a congressman smelling a political opportunity and is only too willing to admit it. We see thrown into the mix the issues of marital betrayals, the politics of labor negotiations, as well as racism and nationalism in a small town -- but those big ideas almost seem incidental in an involving story about people who are only trying to do what's right, but do it in absolutely wrong ways.

The Passionate Strangers is a masterpiece, and I wish all of Dumaguete could see it in its full glory.

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