We see Charo Santos-Concio sitting on an old rickety chair a few minutes into the movie Ang Babaeng Humayo by Filipino director Lav Diaz. She writes what seems to be a letter, a poem, or a short story. To whom she’s writing it to, we can’t know for certain. But as the words flow from her pen, we hear a narration from a voice that is familiar to anyone who has ever seen an episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya in the last 25 years. It’s the voice of course of none other than “Ate Charo”, the host of the longest-running drama anthology in the Philippines.
But this is Charo Santos-Concio in a way that you’ve never seen her and probably in a form that you thought you’d never see.
In this award-winning movie from Lav Diaz, Charo Santos plays the role of Horacia, a former grade school teacher who gets imprisoned in a penal colony for 30 long and agonizing years. 30 years in prison is too long a time for anyone, but it’s even longer if you’re innocent. Petra (Shamaine Buencamino), Horacia’s friend inside prison, confesses that it was she who committed the murder that put Horacia in jail. The mastermind? A certain Rodrigo Trinidad (Michael De Mesa) who happens to be a jilted ex-lover out for revenge. Now that Horacia is finally released, she sets out to find her family that she hasn’t seen in three decades. More importantly, she’s out to seek the justice that has thus far eluded her.
Confession: this is actually my first time to watch a movie by Lav Diaz. I’ve always been curious about his movies but at the same time I find the thought of watching an 8-hour black and white movie about the Philippine Revolution to be intimidating. With all the buzz going around about Ang Babaeng Humayo, my curiosity finally got the better of me. Lav Diaz has a reputation for long movies and I’ve always wondered how someone can make a movie that’s 8 hours long. Anong laman nun? That’s almost the total running time of one season of Game of Thrones! Namatay at nabuhay na si Jon Snow niyan, nakapag-ahit na ng balbas at tinubuan na ulit pero hindi ka pa rin tapos sa movie!
After seeing Ang Babaeng Humayo, I finally understand how he was able to do it. The movie is good, there’s no question about it. There’s a reason that it won the Best Film award at the recently concluded Venice Film Festival, beating movies from all over the world. But clocking in at exactly 3 hours and 37 minutes, the movie can be inaccessible for some. It’s not even about the length of the film (Lord of the Rings nga mahaba rin e) but the style in which the film was made. Lav Diaz takes his time, sometimes featuring 2-minute scenes (or what feels like it) wherein Horacia looks outside the window or sits still on top of her husband’s tomb.
I wouldn’t call it excessive since Diaz always does this with purpose, but it requires the audience to be patient and to have the stamina for it. This is something that a lot of critics have said about Lav Diaz and his movies. But I say this not as a form of indignation but as a way to describe his style. Ganun talaga siya gumawa ng pelikula e, I don’t think anyone anyone is in any position to say that that’s wrong. Everyone’s free to tell their own story the way they want it to be told. Some can tell their stories in 4 minutes, others like Lav Diaz do it in 4 hours. Ang Babaeng Humayo is rewarding and is a great piece of Filipino cinema, but it might prove to be taxing to a casual moviegoers.
But what most audiences will probably appreciate are the stellar performances in the movie. From the lead stars to the supporting roles, Ang Babaeng Humayo features a cast that boasts of prolific careers. Joining Charo Santos-Concio are John Lloyd Cruz, Shamaine Buencamino, Michael De Mesa, and Nonie Buencamino. Some of the them like Shamaine Beuncamino and Michael De Mesa are only featured on the screen for a handful of minutes, but they were still able to leave a mark with great performances. Nonie Buencamino, who other people might not immediately recognize in this movie, plays a hunchback balut vendor who provides some of the more light moments of the film. He shares the screen with Charo Santos Concios’ Horacia for most of the film and is charismatic despite his deformity.
How many times have we heard the words “ibang John Lloyd ang makikita natin dito” everytime a John Lloyd Cruz movie comes out? But for Ang Babaeng Humayo, there’s really no denying that audiences will see a different and almost unrecognizable John Lloyd Cruz. In the movie, he plays Hollanda, an epileptic transgender with a death wish that befriends Horacia. The two develop a friendship that proves pivotal as the story unfolds.
His performance as Hollanda shows why John Lloyd Cruz is one of the most bankable and critically-acclaimed actors in Philippine cinema today. Aside from his star-power, people watch his movies because he’s able to inhabit challenging roles convincingly. We’ve known him more for his “Popoy” roles in romantic movies like One More Chance, but he’s recently tried his hand at more challenging roles and I think he’s doing a good job at it. Hopefully we’ll get to see more roles like that from him.
But the real star of the show, literally and figuratively, is Charo Santos Concio. Ang Babaeng Humayo was not chosen as our entry to the Best Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards. But there is some talk that their trying to get her considered for the Best Actress category. In my opinion, she certainly did enough in this movie to at least be considered for a nomination. But even if she doesn’t end up being nominated at the Oscars, it’s almost a certainty that she’ll get recognition from other award-giving bodies. Her performance as the tormented Horacia has a lot of layers to it. As Horacia the former schoolteacher, you can see the gentleness in her. The way she quietly sobs as she finds out what happened to her family. The way she helps out the people she encounters even if she really doesn’t have to. It’s reminiscent of the “Ate Charo” we’ve known her to be.
8/10. While terrific, this slow-burning revenge movie might be hard for casual audiences to enjoy because of the director’s trademark style. But those who have 4 hours to spare will be rewarded with great performances by a cast led by Charo Santos-Concio.