by Pablo A. Tariman
Ominous peace and quiet pervade Jun Robles Lana’s “Barber’s Tales” set in the 70s at the height of martial law.
Set in a rural town where women are at the beck and call of their husbands, Lana’s story has the color of gray and a patina of something clearly descriptive of the 70s.
The film scoring of Ryan Cayabyab is unobtrusive blending well into the very apt production design of Chito Sumera capturing the 70s look.
Back then, TV sets were still black and white and no remote control, radio was the king of the air lanes. The rural folks troop to the church on Sundays to hear the homily of a well-loved priest brilliantly played by Eddie Garcia. He speaks of the virtues that should be kept but double standard comes into the picture with rumors of the mayor’s paramours circulating in this otherwise quiet, peaceful town.
Where the women remain pious and turn to the confessional for moral relief, the menfolk have their own idea of fun and perdition in this small dance hall where they unleash lustful desires not consummated at home with dutiful wives. The regular married barber (Daniel Fernando) not only asks for regular sex fare but an extra trip to Sodom and Gomorrah which the woman refuses.
Lana’s “Barber’s Tales” is indeed another version of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” with an unpredictable twist.
Here we see a quiet tale of a submissive wife (Eugene Domingo) perennially enslaved by her barber-husband who is picky about a lot of things in the house. She cooks and keeps the house for him, she prepares warm water for his regular bath (shades of “Bona”) but he doesn’t end up in her arms. Under the pretext of seeing the mayor, he ends up in the dance hall-cum-prostitution house where at once he turns lusty and insatiable.
On the whole, there are many things going for this quiet, but explosive tale of a woman who in the end realizes she has had enough.
If you are used to the sight of Eugene Domingo making assorted faces in her comedy roles, well you are in for a surprise in “Barber’s Tales.”
In the opening of the film, you can see certain sadness in her face, almost stoic for its consistency. It takes some effort to make her smile and somewhere in the film, you realize she is carrying some marital burden she keeps to herself. Until she meets another victim of marital violence in the character played by Iza Calzado who delivers a deeply felt role ironic for someone who, like it or not, is a trophy wife.
They exchange tales of love and estrangement and betrayal. A special friendship develops. But Marilou (Domingo) is not prepared to witness her friend’s last resort.
On this note, the film gives us grim tale of lies and corruption in a small town as well as profiles of courage of its womenfolk played with equal intensity by the womenfolk portrayed by Shamaine Centenera Buencamino and Gladys Reyes, among others.
Nonie Buencamino turns in another brilliant performance as the corrupt town mayor, Fernando as the oppressive husband likewise delivers a well-delineated part and the perennial screen and teleserye villain, Gladys Reyes gives her audience a good inkling of what she is capable of as ensemble actor.
You are also rewarded with an equally intense performance of Nicco Manalo as Edmond the activist (godson of Domingo and nephew of Centenera).
Everything about “Barber’s Tales” illumine a riveting story so simple and yet so encompassing in its hold on the audience.
Lana as director and scriptwriter is an honest-to-goodness storyteller who unravels his tale of love, lust and betrayal with cold, if, objective candor.
Like it or not, the film has reverberations of Chito Rono’s “Dekada 70” and Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” specially in the wake and funeral scene.
But Lana’s story is well-focused on a barber’s wife dilemma and here Domingo gives us a performance that is pure and incandescent and so true to the character. She is the hapless Marilou inside and out and with no trace of the popular comedian in this well-made film.
Here at once is a film we can all be proud of and it is ironic it made the rounds in the film festivals abroad before it is shown in its country of origin.
It earned a Best Actress trophy for Domingo in Japan and a Best Director trophy for Lana in Madrid. After watching the film for the first time, I must say that they all deserve the honors.
Lana dedicated his film to his beloved mentor, the late filmmaker, Marilou Diaz-Abaya.
“Barber’s Tales” opened in SM theaters on August 13.