After the past week took all my strength, zest and life, I was left rolling on my bed on a late Saturday morning. Well, thanks to the red wine that calmed my tired body the other night. I woke up realizing that it's June 12, birthday of my bestfriend Dustbin and of course, my country's Independence Day! After greeting my friend, I immediately browsed the web to check what else I can do to celebrate the Philippines' Independence Day. Then I realized that the patriotic film I've been waiting for opened last June 09 and is still showing at this very special day of our nation!
Emir is a full-feature Filipino movie musical set in a fictional emirate in the Middle East with 70% of principal photography shot in Morocco and the rest in Ifugao and Paoay, Ilocos Sur in the Philippines. Produced by the Film Development Council of the Philippines in association with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Emir is directed by one of the best Filipino filmmakers Chito S. Rono and features GMA 7's The Next Big Star winner Frencheska Farr. It also stars Dulce, Sid Lucero, Jhong Hilario, Julia Clarete, Beverly Salviejo, Bodjie Pascua and Bayang Barrios, among others.
Emir narrates the story of Amelia (Frencheska Farr), an Ifugao living in Ilocos who decided to work abroad to alleviate her family from poverty, a situation where most of the people in her hometown face. She becomes a yaya (nanny) to the newly born Ahmed, the Sheik’s only son.
Amelia takes care of Ahmed as her own, witnesses him grew up, and in the process making the young boy familiar and attached to the culture, values and language of the Philippines. Amelia, and the rest of her colleagues in the palace, experiences both the pain and rewards of being our country’s modern day heroes, the OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers. And as they continue to sacrifice for their loved ones and take care of the Sheik’s family and household as their own, a war erupted and an evacuation of the family is ordered. Amelia saves the life of the Shiek’s son (Mahdi Yadzian Varjani) but they become separated and Amelia is forced to go back to the Philippines.
At the start of the film, Emir effectively narrated and photographed what is typically seen in a Filipino family and community. The film may have shown the romanticized (as what musicals do) poor town of Amelia but the hardships were honestly told and can surely be felt. And another fantastic backdrop used is the Ifugao Rice Terraces where Amelia's grandmother and other relatives live. At this part of the story, the grandmother poetically reminds Amelia to not forget her roots no matter how long her journey will be.
In Amelia's work place abroad, Direck Chito brought the audience to the classic beauty of the Middle East but no matter how grand the palace and dessert landscape may be, the real lives of OFWs were told from the heart. At this point, I think any Filipino will be proud of our fellow countrymen who despite their wounded heart and soul are very committed and very hardworking in their jobs.
The production design is majestic and truly exceptional, whether the scene was shot in Ilocos or Ifugao or Morocco, Production Designer Digo Ricio created the fictional yet truthful and convincing world of Amelia. Cinematography is an example of how technology and artistry can mix well. And music, of course, is truly world class. At first, I was afraid that Bollywood influence might flood the film's music but I guess I just noticed it in two scenes (work scene and closing billboard). My personal favorites were the main theme song "Bakit Ako Naririto" which I predict will be an instant Filipino and musical classic, the love theme (this one may be a pop hit), the lullaby or the song sang for Ahmed "Gunita", and "Sandosenang Pasko" (a new Christmas Carol that we can add in our collection). The songs featured met global musical film standards but it echoed the heart and soul of every Filipino, especially those who are working in foreign lands. Hats off to the film's musical director Josefino Chino Toledo and composers Gary Granada, Vin Dancel, Ebe Dancel, Diwa De Leon and Chino Toledo.
Dulce is also a big revelation and I think her superb performance deserves an acting award. Gigi Escalante who portrayed the Ifugao lola gave a very commendable dramatic and musical performance. It may be brief but it truly captivated our hearts. Julia Clarete (Angie), (Pearlsha) Liesl Batucan and (Mylene) Melanie Dujunco also did a very good job in their respective roles. Of course who will not be charmed by the 7 year old (Joshua Elia Price Hourani) and 12 year old Ahmed (Mahdi Yadzian Varjani) who was very cute and funny in his dialogues in Filipino. I heard that the story of Emir was inspired by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's encounter with a prince in one of her visits in the Middle East where the young royalty talked to her in Filipino fluently, courtesy of her Pinoy nanny! =)
One of the film highlights, the reunion of Amelia and Ahmed, put almost everyone in shed of tears. It only says that if there is one thing that makes a Filipino nanny (or even other household and health care workers) ahead of her counterparts (well aside from her devotion and the ability to speak English), it is her "malasakit" or concern for the child she is taking care of, which is truly beyond the demands of her work.
The opening scene is also something I liked so much and I think this is the first time I saw in a Filipino movie that the actual opening scene had a very fine and creative transition to the film's title artcard.
Well, as much as I wanted to just say all the beautiful things about the film, as I really became a big fan, I can't help but share my views on some of its setbacks, to be objective of course. There are some hidden scenes that makes the transition abrupt like when Amelia and Ahmed got separated and when she came back to the Philippines. For me, I think showing the actual scenes could help the audience appreciate better the resolution of the story. Her refusal to accept the position left by Ester (Dulce) is anti-climactic and didn't effectively reflect a positive attitude towards work. And the story, eventhough it tackles problems of big scale, is narrated in a light and positive way. So I just can't help but feel anxious that after laughing and falling in love with the characters of the household workers, the Shiekka and Ahmed's sisters, their last scene, the escalation of the story, was presented in an unlikely dark way (and I preferred that it's told the other way, the lighter way, as they established it already in the film). Well, unless they really wanted to show the very gloomy side that an OFW may face. And I think, like in Slumdog Millionaire, the song dance scene at the CBB is not needed. Well, okay, Slumdog may have a reason because it's a Bollywood film but Emir is not. It may have been inspired by Bollywood but it doesn't mean we have to copy its music. It could have been better if they just used something of our own like the Manila Sound perhaps.
'But in general, Emir is truly world class, deserves local and international recognition, and a film (and music) every Filipino will be proud of. It showed the beauty (and that's a mix of strengths and weaknesses) of our country and people. Emir is an inspiring story of the Filipino's continuing struggle and small triumphs over life's hardships. From a scale 1 to 10 claps, I give Emir 8 1/2 with cheers and wave. I recommend Emir to every Filipino (and any citizen of the world who wants to know more about us) because it's truly worthwhile and a it's one perfect way to celebrate our Philippine Independence Day. Watch the movie and champion our heritage, salute our nation's new heroes and propagate this noble endeavor of producing well crafted and pride instilling movies. Congratulations to Chito Rono, Film Development Council of the Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Frencheska Farr and the rest of the people behind this landmark movie.
Photos courtesy of Emir fan page and www.emirthemovie.com.