‘Ang Larawan’ Depicts How Damaged Philippine Culture Is

Ang Larawan is still showing in theaters nationwide. After it was widely ridiculed for being pulled out from cinemas shortly after the opening day of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), Ang Larawan came back strong after winning top honors at the MMFF Awards night. Now, as 2018 starts, more people get to enjoy the musical spectacle that had critics raving as theaters start to shed another chance to this movie.

Set in post-colonial, pre-war Philippines, Ang Larawan is a story about a portrait painted by celebrated artist Don Lorenzo Marasigan. After attempting to take away his life, the artist painted a portrait that had society talking about its meaning. However, the burden is carried by sisters Candida (Joanna Ampil) and Paula (Rachel Alejandro) as they are tasked by their artist father to take care of the painting amidst the many people trying to exploit the artwork, including their tenant Tony Javier (Paulo Avelino).

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In the best way possible, Ang Larawan is actually a portrait of the realities of Philippine culture — that is both beautiful and unfortunate at the same time. The core of the movie is the manner people try to decipher what the painting actually means, when it actually is a reflection of their own identities. It is supported by the implied magnitude of value the painting possesses, which makes it an attractive subject of exploitation for many people. In many cases, it is a metaphor of the pressing realities of our own culture.

Tony, brilliantly played by Paulo Avelino, is the personification of the exploitative character of Filipinos towards their own country. No matter how priceless our culture is, selfish intentions rather see it as an expensive item lucrative to be sold more than preserved. Moreover, the absent but nonetheless rich American repeatedly mentioned in the movie is, in essence, the imperialist characteristic of the United States, which is a powerful presence even in contemporary Philippines. It promises good fortune, but at the expense of losing our precious national identity.

An empty promise of a better future is the same resounding premise of American relationship towards the Philippines. Worse, it is mediated by Filipinos, who sell out the core of their being in exchange of personal gains.

MMFF 2017 Best Actress Joanna Ampil’s Candida, and the underrated Rachel Alejandro’s Paula could very well signify the constantly delicate situation of Filipinos. They are trapped between the memories of our glorious cultural past and the present urge to go with the flow as culture and identity is continuously jeopardized by former colonizers and the existing imperialists.

Don Perico (Robert Arevalo), on the other hand, is figuratively and literally the former artist with deep love for the country but had to have a change of heart so as not to be left behind in deep poverty.

Insightful and provocative, Ang Larawan masterfully creates a scenario that beautifully depicts how damaged Philippine culture is. It also portrays the brittle Philippine institutions the country possesses — the potential of family to betray its own members, the greed of politicians, as well as the complacency and disregard of the people on its own identity.

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Towards the end, though, the old and mighty members of the community helped Candida and Paula escape the wrath of their own siblings. It’s the same way that institutions can be powerful agents of social change and cultural preservation, if only appropriately utilized.

Fully explaining the message of the movie Ang Larawan is the same as trying to pinpoint what single identity the Filipino has. Theoretically, it is improbable because identity is continuously evolving even though it has not been totally explained yet. And that makes Filipino identity difficult to explain and to understand. It, however, makes Ang Larawan more special. The movie does not pretend to know all the answers. Rather, it poses more questions to ponder on.

There may be production limitations in Ang Larawan. But it is overshadowed by the magnificent portrayal of each cast member. It deserves to be seen because Ang Larawan is our own portrait, and the specifically important roles we play in determining the fate of our culture and our nation.

John Mychal Feraren

Crazy about popular culture, pre-colonial, and Spanish-era studies. Fan of Christina Aguilera and Katrina Halili.