Among nine other entries in the New Breed category (helmed by first- or second-time feature filmmakers), “Aparisyon” stands out in a number of ways. First, its story revolves around cloistered nuns in the period immediately preceding Martial Law – something rarely – if at all – tackled in a Filipino film. Second, it’s a distinctively visual film. It’s far from a talky or dialogue-ridden film and, according to writer-director Vincent Sandoval, “its most arresting and powerful scenes are its quietest”.
And then, of course, the one thing that “Aparisyon” is best known for so far: the powerhouse all-female ensemble. Jodi Sta. Maria, Mylene Dizon, Raquel Villavicencio, Rustica Carpio, and Fides Cuyugan-Asensio. It’s a casting coup any filmmaker would dream of: three generations of the best actresses of Philippine cinema.
Last Thursday (July 12), I was fortunate to be invited to a press conference with the casts and crew of APARISYON at Tokyo Cafe at the Venice Piazza in McKinley Hill.
The casting, Jodi says, was “Pinag-isipan talaga. From Mylene, to Tita Kelly, they even had to contact Tita Fides while she was in the US and meet up with her in between her US trips so she could do the part, and Tita Rustica pa! Great ensemble!”
Director Vincent Sandoval admits that he hit the jackpot with Mylene and Jodi leading the cast.
He says, “When I pitched ‘Aparisyon’ to my American investors, I would tell them that I’m doing a movie with the Charlize Theron (that would be Mylene) and Michelle Williams (Jodi) of the Philippines so that they have a reference. Of course, one really can’t compare Mylene and Jodi with any foreign actress, but I wanted my investors to understand I’m working with serious-minded actresses who have the gravitas to play complex characters and who are, of course, beautiful. Mylene and Jodi are the Charlize and Michelle in a mainstream film industry where most young actresses are groomed to become Katherine Heigl types or pretty much your rom-com queen.”
“Aparisyon” is Jodi’s first-ever Cinemalaya film, where she plays Sister Lourdes, an innocent novice who starts to become politically enlightened until she falls victim of a senseless act of violence. The role posed a different challenge for her as an actress and she said yes on the spot:
“They offered me this project and told me they wanted to meet with me, and for so many times, nauudlot ang meeting. When I finally got to meet up with [producer] Darlene [Malimas], she presented the project to me. The cute thing is, she didn’t just give an overview… she explained everything from the beginning until the end, including the role of each character. This project is something new to me, and I’m always open to doing new roles and storylines, so I said ‘yes’ right away. As a matter of fact, I said ‘yes’ even before reading the script.” She added, “Playing a nun was appealing to me, plus I like making movies that have social significance.”
Mylene plays Sister Remy, an extern nun at the monastery (e.g. a nun who’s assigned to go on errands outside the monastery), who learns that her activist brother has gone missing. Incredibly picky with her feature film roles, Mylene’s last lead role was in Chris Martinez’s “100”, also a Cinemalaya festival entry, four years ago, for which she won various Best Actress awards. While she is very much visible on television in soap operas, Mylene has turned down a slew of film projects that weren’t challenging enough for her, until she was offered “Aparisyon”.
“I am very much intrigued with the role of a nun that, honestly, I accepted the job before seeing the script. I did have a very clear picture of the story anyway as told by [director] Vincent. A movie about nuns, particularly cloistered nuns, sheltered from the world, appeals to me.”
Here’s the official Full Trailer:
1971. The year before Martial Law is declared. The place: The Adoration Monastery in the woods of a remote province a few hours away from Manila. A young novice, Lourdes, enters the monastery. A few weeks later, Remy, an extern nun, gets a visit from her mother and is told that her left-leaning brother has gone missing. Remy asks for a brief leave of absence to join her family in the search for her brother. Mother Superior turns Remy down, wanting to keep the nun safe from harm. But Remy, still troubled by the news about her brother, has other plans and ends up smuggling a pocket radio into the monastery to listen to news reports in the dead of night. Lourdes eventually finds out what Remy has been up to. Sympathizing with Remy’s plight, Lourdes asks to become an extern herself. She and Remy start attending meetings of families whose militant relatives have disappeared. When one of their meetings drags into the night, the two nuns end up walking in the woods in the dark and get accosted by a few men. Remy escapes but Lourdes is not that lucky. Shortly before dawn, Lourdes is found in the woods: she has been sexually abused. The entire monastery gets shaken, and the nuns start to unravel from the memory of that fateful night. Months later, the crisis climaxes in a startling revelation that turns the nuns’ world upside down.
Director Vincent shared that, when both Mylene and Jodi confirmed that they’re on board “Aparisyon”, I wrote one additional scene between their two characters. It’s a very emotionally intense four-minute scene that happens without any dialogue. I always had that scene in mind when I first wrote the screenplay, but I doubt that I would find actresses who were extraordinary enough to pull the scene off. But the moment both Mylene and Jodi said ‘yes’ to “Aparisyon”, I knew that this scene can finally work. And I was totally right. We shot it at 2:30 AM and we did as a single-shot scene in one take. It’s a masterclass in acting, and no other Filipino actresses could pull that scene off except Mylene and Jodi.”
Both actresses agree that the said scene is one of the film’s highlights for them.
Jodi says, “I think pareho kami ni Mylene ng sentiment—‘yung isang highpoint was my long scene with Mylene’s with no lines [exchanged between us]. It was also the most unforgettable.”
Mylene adds, “Yes, pure emotions, no dialogue, powerful! It was an emotionally charged scene on the confrontation between my character and Jodi’s that had no lines.”
Moreover, Both actresses pointed out that what made their portrayal of their character as nuns with a pivotal role effective is Vincent’s directorial style.
THE STORY BEHIND APARISYON: Writer-Director VINCENT SANDOVAL
The thousands of miles between America and the Philippines did not for any minute detract young New York-based filmmaker Vincent Sandoval from making his entry to the 8th Cinemalaya New Breed Category for Full-Length Feature Award.
Vincent the writer-director has two features under his belt: Señorita, which he co-wrote, and Aparisyon.
“My entry this year to Cinemalaya is Aparisyon which I made in collaboration with producer Darlene Malimas,” says Vincent.
His first film-making salvo came in 2009 right after he co-founded the IndioBravo Film Foundation, which screens independent Filipino films to US audiences.
“It was then that I decided to take the plunge and shot my first short film, entitled Señorita. In 2011, I expanded my short film Señorita into a similarly-titled full-length feature, which had screened in prestigious international venues.”
More on Direk Vincent:
Vincent Sandoval, like many Filipino filmmakers, did not take the traditional route to becoming a film director. He has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and, while a student, he won in an essay writing contest held by the United Nations, which brought him to UN’s New York Headquarters.
His first job in the Philippines was with Unilever where he served as a brand manager for major consumer goods. He moved to New York in 2006 to pursue a Master’s degree in business.
Nothing in his educational background had a direct bearing on skills development towards a career in filmmaking, but the guy has always been interested in filmmaking. His teenage years were filled with hours spent in cinemas and reveries on filmmaking. At the age of 28, his dream finally came true, and his first ever film project had its world premiere in competition at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where only two other Filipino films had previously competed in its 64-year history.
Living Legends Fides Cuyugan Asensio and Rustica Carpio laud “Aparisyon”
Veteran theater performer Fides Cuyugan Asensio flew halfway across the globe to briefly work in the woodlands of Rizal Province before rolling cameras for Aparisyon because she believe that the film has a very good chance of winning local and international awards, both for its direction and the film itself.
In an interview after the shoot, Fides shared how she marveled at the film’s uniqueness of treatment and the social significance of its plot. No one but her has described in-depth the substance and social significance of “Aparisyon” in which she was cast as Mother Superior.
“Society no matter how confined cannot be permanently controlled by a single set of rules and individuals and that there must be change in whatever forms. When in the natural order of the things, a group of rational sentient individuals is disturbed as when a rigid set of rules is imposed on the group or on a society by a single individual, or as in the film itself, by the Mother Superior, there will at some point bound to be a breakdown.” In more specific terms, she explained: “The film portraying life behind seemingly impenetrable walls of a contemplative order of nuns eventually showed how vulnerable it is to unseen and unexpected forces within and outside the walls.”
The legendary musical genius expressed poignant feelings about the film. She added,
“The highpoint of the film for me is the burning of the newspaper and magazine articles about Martial Law in the Philippines–as if by this act the effect on the lives of the Mother Superior’s beloved nuns (including hers) could be erased. Symbolically, she is trying to rebuild the walls that have come crashing down as one by one the nuns, like dominoes, fall prey to the evils outside the walls, their anguished silent cries unheard.”
On the other hand, Rustica Carpio, who holds a doctoral degree in Literature, when asked to comment about the plot, said simply,
“I was fascinated by the story of ‘Aparisyon’ for its being sincere. Vincent’s style of directing is meticulous but relaxed, intelligent and precise, active in the treatment of theme, with subtle approach and characterized by a high sense of professionalism. His tackling of the subject matter and his desire to follow the intent of the characters plus the charisma of his personality contributes to his success as a person.”
This must be a distinctive film indeed. Even Dr. Carpio had only good words to say during the interview about it and its director:
“I think ‘Aparisyon’ deserves to win here and even abroad. The careful handling of the language of film, the script, the technique, the visual effects, cinematography and its elements, like editing, etc., but most of all, the personality of the direction. I wish that Vincent would continue directing. May he keep on moving with spirit high- and low-keyed expressiveness! Our affinity for having the same alma mater (New YorkUniversity) will be always grow stronger,” she ended.
Catch APARISYON in the following screening schedules:
- July 21 – Trinoma (C1) 9:00pm
- July 22 – CCP Little Theater 3:30pm
- July 23 – CCP Main Theater 12:45pm
- July 24 – Greenbelt 3 (C3) 1:30pm
- July 24 – Greenbelt 3 (C5) 9:00pm
- July 25 – CCP Studio Theater 12:45pm
- July 25 – CCP MKP Hall 6:15pm
- July 26 – Greenbelt 3 (C5) 1:30pm
- July 26 – CCP Main Theater 6:15pm (RED CARPET)
- July 27 – CCP MKP Hall 12:45pm
- July 27 – Greenbelt 3 (C3) 9:00pm
- July 28 – Greenbelt 3 (C5) 11:00am
- July 28 – CCP Studio Theater 6:15pm
- July 29 – Trinoma (C1) 1:30pm
Directed by Vincent Sandoval
Check out the BEHIND THE SCENE PICS HERE