The (true) story of Remedios Gomez (played by Carina Febie Agustin), a former beauty queen who became a commander of the Hukbalahap (when Japan invaded the Philippines in the 1940s), is one that is – really – is worth turning into a movie. Enter Myra Aquino, whose “Beauty Queen” does this exactly, sorta adapting the book of Andrew G. Gomez (“Kumander Liwayway: Joan of Ark of the Philippines”).
The story is… big. But does Aquino capture Gomez (and her grand tale)?
- Aquino’s intention is, definitely, admirable – i.e. to tell the story of a beauty queen who became a rebel during the war. Even now, at the era of #MeToo, women’s stories are still not properly told (if told at all), so when a woman actually surfaces to do this (properly, I might add), the world ought to pay attention.
- At 17 minutes 59 seconds, this film is… not that long, though long enough to encompass a lot.
- That it’s, generally, a Kapampangan film makes it commendable because even now, so many “regional” stories are unheard, and so this telling is definitely needed.
- Small “details” that make it realistic – e.g. when she tied her long hair before joining an ambush. Hollywood almost always shows women with flowing hair while fighting for life (think Mulan flying over her enemies), when these women could make their lives easier (and more realistic in their representation) if they just tied their hair off their faces for them to see better, etc.
- Inconsistent quality of sound design (sorry, Matt Yocum) – e.g. that portion where we’re supposed to be listening to radio announcements at the start of the film sounded more like newly-read script that archival records; and then you listen to the sounds in the forest, and those are actually “immersive”.
- Production design issues (sorry, too, Juan Pablo Pineda III) – e.g. we have a rebel here, stuck in the middle of some forest, and her clothes (as well as of the others in her company) looked like they’re newly-washed; and then the time-appropriateness of… the clothes and the guns and so on (though this latter issue ought to be forgivable considering the budget and, hey, this is “just” a short film).
- Seeming “off the script” reading of lines, instead of “owning” what the specific characters would say at specific instances – e.g. when the rebels were talking about raids and ambushes.
- Forcing the narrative to move forward – e.g. the head of the rebels actually disclosed the strategies at the first meeting (Ahem!).; no one recognizing her when she joined the male group for an ambush; etc.
- Aquino herself admitted she hired people with limited acting experience, and it shows – e.g. when Remedios was giving her speech, in the fights, etc. At times these become “derivative” – e.g. remedies being mocked for being a woman, and then she’s supposed to change their minds with a rousing speech.
IN THE END
That this is a needed film – i.e. woman-told woman’s story about surviving in a man’s world – is a given. Too bad it feels… incomplete, almost like a summed version of “Liway”. Don’t expect a “Brave Miss World”, or (even the imperfect) “Miss Bala”, or… you get the point. BUT watch nonetheless, and hope Aquino learns from this to better tell more similar stories…
“Beauty Queen” is part of the 17th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, running until September 5 ktx.ph (https://www.ktx.ph/).