Cinemalaya review: 'Mamang' will put a smile on your face

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 10 2018 04:47 PM

Mamang was an elderly woman who was already teetering between reality and dementia. She lives in her charming old house with her steadfastly loyal gay son Ferdie, who was devoted to her care. With each passing day, though, she encounters realistic visions of men (her philandering husband Heme, her first love Amado, and a nameless Soldier) from her past who cause her to relive her youth, her heartaches, and her fears. 

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Despite her rare screen appearances, Celeste Legaspi impressively essayed the complex role of Mamang. This beautiful character slid in and out of sanity with her dignity intact, speaking and interacting with her ghosts as if they were really there playing the piano, giving her flowers, singing her songs. Hers was a subtly nuanced performance that did not go overboard with the usual over-the-top schizophrenic tics we commonly see in lesser skilled portrayals. This definitely has a shot for Best Actress of the festival.

Ketchup Eusebio's portrayal of Ferdie provided a perfect balancing support for his Mamang's madness. He may have been gay, but he also did not see the need to play him like the typical flamboyant queen. Alex Medina was Heme (or Daddy James to his nymphet student Yesa, played by indie siren Elora Espano), Mamang's womanizer of a husband. Gio Gahol was Amado, the romantic farmer who first swept Mamang off her feet. Paolo O'Hara was the soldier, ominous in his wordless presence.

Production designer Martin Masadao should be credited for the simple elegance of Mamang's house and eye-catching details within, as captured by cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily. Editor Thop Nazareno was consistent in his care not to preempt any coming surprises. The original music by Teresa Barrozo and the choice of romantic local songs like "Awit kay Luisa" and "Santa Clara" enhanced the atmosphere of romance and nostalgia.

The topic of a mother's dementia will definitely touch a sensitive nerve with any audience. This is one major fear among senior citizens, and for everyone else who loves and cares for them. We all dread the day when our parents would gradually lose grip on reality and live their lives haunted by their hallucinations. Veteran TV drama writer Denise O'Hara chose this evocative theme as her feature film directorial debut, and delivered it with poignancy, inevitable comparisons with "The Sixth Sense" notwithstanding. 

Even if the topic was very serious, O'Hara chose to tell her story with a light and humorous approach. The daily banter between a mother and her son was never too morose or depressing. The son always sought to uplift his mother's sagging spirits, hence his consistently positive attitude and cheerful disposition. While Mamang's visions can be disturbing, these delightful mother-son moments between her and Ferdie guarantee a smile on your face. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."