Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa (Joel Lamangan, 2003)
English Title: The Last Virgin
Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa (The Last Virgin) takes its cue from Ishmael Bernal's masterpiece Himala (Miracle, 1982). Both films have practically the same conceit: a provincial town suddenly bursting with life and commerce because of a miracle. Both writer and director of the film worked under Bernal in Himala: screenwriter Racquel Villavicencio as production designer and director Joel Lamangan as crowd director.
The biggest difference between the two films is that Lamangan's lacks a coherent direction, while Bernal's is grand in its cornered simplicity (that famous line by Nora Aunor's character "walang himala, ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao," translated in English as "There are no miracles, miracles are in the heart of men," is practically the film's lyrical cornerstone). If there's a line that probably paraphrases Lamangan's film, it would be the one spoken by Lorena (Ara Mina) in the end of the film, "ang maidudulot lang ng kasakiman ay kahamakan," or "greed only results in tragedy." It's hardly an original or interesting theme to ground your film on, and Villavicencio and Lamangan know that, as shown by the rows and rows of narrative embellishments and subplots that muddle the film.
An epidemic left the seaside town of San Rosario in social and moral disarray. Extremes populate the town: the pious as exemplified by Cion (Maui Taylor), who sees the Virgin Mary (depicted visually as a modern-day burning bush) regularly, her saint-muttering ill mother, and the ex-nun who teaches catechism to the children; those who have lost their faith on religion are Lorena, Cion's older sister and town whore, the town captain (Elizabeth Oropesa), who explains her lack of faith as a result of her daughter's unexplained crippled-ness. When Fr. Emman (Jay Manalo), who washed ashore one day, starts conniving with Lorena in making up a miracle to elicit a steady income from the needy faithful, greed unhealthily mixes with the affairs of the soul.
It's played out as straight melodrama with several encounters that expand on the logical limitations of human reason, like that unexplainable mutation of the priest's sexual lusting for Lorena into something so easily referred to by Lorena as love, or the relative ease that the miracle goes out of proportion (Lamangan even reprises the carnivalesque crowds, complete with journalists and television crews, furthering the implausibility of the exercise; especially since Villavicencio's story hinges on fake clergymen, corrupt low-ranking government officials, and shady crooks --- certainly, a grandiose media coverage would cause unwanted attention to an enterprise that works best if kept in an intermediate level of awareness; enough to arouse needy patrons but not large enough to create suspicion with the government and the church).
But there are the details that are unintentionally funny that counter its aims for social commentary and realism, or even its meager attempts at effective melodrama: the insanely large polyester breasts of Taylor in gratuitous display (abnormally gifted for a fifteen year old lass), or the libidous climax that seems drawn out of the many other Filipino films that require rape scenes (this time, the decision to rape seems out of place --- Mike Magat's character is supposed to be an enterprising businessman; why then would he allow himself and his gang to deflower their most prized commodity), or even the ridiculous ending that gives the film's title its meaning: an unintended conclusion that there's such a thing as hymen that remains indestructible despite a vicious gang rape (either that, or the men of San Rosario are not so well-endowed); or maybe, the hymen is really such an invaluable commodity for sanctification that divine powers are needed to preserve its intactness. Nevertheless, it's just such a silly, silly film.