Karl Gaspar .
MANY Filipinos who enjoy watching films that do not insult their intelligence are sighing with relief now that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is finally over. Except perhaps for one film (Sunset Paradise, which predictably won most of the awards), the rest had very little redeeming value, especially the top box-office hits. Unfortunately, despite the passing of the years, the Pinoy bakya movie crowd is still very much the determining demographic in movie producers’ and distributors’ decision as to what films to include in this festival.
This was not true in the early years of this festival when classics like “Daigdig ng mga Api” (1966), “Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak” (1967), “Manila, Open City” (1968), “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon” (1976), “Insiang” (1976), “Burlesk Queen” (1977), “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” (1977) “Kisapmata” (1981), “Himala” (1982) and “Dekada ’70” (2002). In 2016, an attempt was made to return to exhibiting quality films; but given their poor performance at the box-office, it was back to showing inane but box-office hits in 2017.
So it is always a relief when the festival is over and there are possibilities of being able to watch good films – Pinoy and foreign – in the cineplexes of the city. Not that most of these films are a lot better than those shown at the MMFF, but the cineaste have more to choose from. Fortunately for film lovers, one blessing that has come their way is the availability of Netflix, the subscription-based streaming OTT service (the term used for the delivery of film and TV content via the internet), which offers online streaming of a library of films and television programs, including those produced in-house.
Currently showing now are two films that would delight film lovers and interestingly both deal with the nanny or yaya. But the two films – Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns and Netflix’ Roma – are poles apart. The former is in full Technicolor, is a musical, set in depression era in London, is based on a children’s magical book and has a happily-ever-after-ending. The latter is in black-and-white, does not have a sequence where the actors sing and dance, is set in post-war Mexico, is based on actual true events and has a heartbreaking ending. One has to enter a cinema to see Mary Poppins while Roma can be viewed comfortably in one’s room through the internet. But apart from dealing with a nanny, one other common feature of these two films is that both are vying for awards, from the Golden Globes to the National Film Critics to the Oscars.
Roma – set in 1970-71, a semi-autobiographical take on the Director’s upbringing in Mexico City and follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family – was awarded Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Golden Globes. The Director (Alfonso Cuaron) was also handed the Best Director award. Cuaron is a Mexican film Director, screenwriter, producer, and editor best known for Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Gravity (which earned him the Best Director award at the Oscars in 2013).
The central character of Roma is a yaya named Cleo Gutierrez, played by Yalitza Aparicio. She is a school teacher; this is her first attempt at being an actress. She was discovered by the Director for this central role and she delivers a most amazing performance. Filipinos can easily relate to Roma’s story. Like most Mexican families the yaya is a common feature of middle-class life. Like the yaya in some of our families, Cleo comes from a poor family with only domestic work as her possible employment. She can also be easily exploited; in this film, Cleo’s lover has her impregnated only to be abandoned. But as Cleo does her best to fulfill her vocation and in turn is loved by the children under her care, she practically becomes part of the family whose members also go through heartbreaking experiences. Roma is the Director’s ode to Cleo, a way of thanking her for the services she rendered to his family with deep affection. While set in Mexico, this film could easily be the same stories of most yayas all over the Third World. If this film can be translated to Filipino (or Cebuano) and shown on TV, many of our own yayas would love to see this film. For they will see themselves in Cleo.
Not so with Mary Poppins. This nanny is literally out-of-this world for she originates from the sky coming down to earth with her iconic umbrella and bag. But Mary Poppins Returns – like the original 1964 Mary Poppins film starring the legendary Julie Andrews – is a magical film to fully enjoy with its lush musical soundtrack and the combination of live scenes and animation. And the colors on the film’s palette are superb. But while it is a Hollywood spectacular film meant to hit the jackpot at the box office, still there is something that links it with Roma. Mary Poppins may be a nanny but she has class; besides Cleo she is upper class with her looks and demeanor. She comes to the aid of a family also faced with economic woes and relationship problems (a member of the family is even a labor organizer!).
Like Roma, Mary Poppins Returns made waves at the Golden Globes and soon with the Oscars. It was nominated Best Picture and Emily Blunt – who plays the title character – was nominated Best Actress. The film is directed by another Oscar-winner, Rob Marshall whose film – the musical Chicago – won Best Picture in 2002.
Nanies and yayas (synonyms: nursemaid, au pair, childminder, child-carer, governess, ayah, amah) are everywhere across the globe. In a globalized world in fact, they cross national boundaries. In the Philippines, when both father and mother become OFWs, the yaya takes over such a heavy responsibility. And working as OFWs in Hongkong, Singapore or London, they look after other people’s children, while their own children at home have to be cared for by those who become surrogate mothers. And yet, unlike Cleo and Mary Poppins, they may not be so loved by the households they serve. In many cases, they are exploited, sexually abused and made to work long hours with low wages. There have even been cases of some of them murdered by their employers.
Like Cuaron, we can pay homage to them in our own ways. And perhaps we can begin by treating them to watch both Roma and Mary Poppins Returns.
(Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books.)