Film Notes
by Pablo A. Tariman

The evolution of ‘the other woman’ is delicately chronicled in the Chito S. Rono film, “Etiquette for Mistresses” which is based on Jullie Yap Daza’s bestselling book of the same title.

Scene from "Etiquette for Mistresses." Film shows us the damming  hypocrisy behind social graces.

Scene from “Etiquette for Mistresses.” Film shows us the damming hypocrisy behind social graces.

The film begins with a crude video of two women in a violent confrontation which shows the utter disregard for Emily Post’s unwritten rule of etiquette: thou shalt not claw each in public.

(Ms. Post is the acknowledged daughter of the gilded age and known in polite circles as the Mistress of American Manners.)

After the crude video, the film brings us to the present-day milieu of ‘the other women’ and how they are expected to conduct themselves in public.

The Rono film tells us that the present-day mistress can in fact peacefully co-exist with the legal wife for as long as the former observes the basic etiquette for this kind of relationship looked down in polite society.

Then the moviegoers are educated on the exclusive circles mistresses are known to circulate from beauty parlors to official functions.

She is defined by the quality of the clothes she wears, the expensive bag she buys and the condominium where she is literally kept.

From her surface image, the film proceeds to give us an idea on how they live and the dreams and fears they harbor.

“Etiquette for Mistresses” zeroes in on the enclaves of the rich and powerful and comes up with a highly sensitive portrayal of ill-starred ladies popularly known as the “other women.”

They are content with what they have materially but are obsessed with finding real happiness.

They soon discover that being a mistress entails a lot of hiding and avoiding the public eye.

Director Chito Rono with cast. The film succeeds in defining men as they are seen in the eyes of these ‘other women.’

Director Chito Rono with cast. The film succeeds in defining men as they are seen in the eyes of these ‘other women.’

On the whole, the film captures Philippine society in motion as it is defined by the rich and famous and in most cases, by politicians in high places.

Surprisingly, the Rono film succeeds in defining men as they are seen in the eyes of these ‘other women.’ They keep their marriage in an attempt to keep respectability. However, they must keep other women as well to keep their libidos going even as their marriage deteriorates into marital boredom.

The assorted tales of so-called “kept women” and how they are treated by men give moviegoers a chance to re-evaluate the vulnerability of these women who chose to give up everything in the name of love and at times — fortune.

The quality of ensemble acting in this film is highly commendable starting with a thoroughly reincarnated Kris Aquino (in the role of Georgia Torres) as she keeps a watchful eye on her wards who are both seasoned and amateur, if, reluctant, mistresses.

It is refreshing to see Kim Chiu in a no-nonsense role outside the “kilig” formula and succeeding in giving a well-rounded portrayal of Ina Del Prado, the lounge entertainer from Cebu. It is fascinating how Direk Rono guided Chiu’s character as she evolves from the naïve to one suddenly shaken by her first inkling of self-knowledge.

Even as the ensemble acting is at its best, the members of the cast succeeds in turning in highly memorable individual performances starting with the Stella Garcia of Iza Calzado, the Chloe Zamora of Claudine Barreto and the Charley Mariquit of Cheena Crab. There is so much to appreciate in the subtly restrained acting of Aquino.

But the senior ‘graduates’ of the ‘profession’ deliver equally compelling performances in their short appearances. One is referring to the stellar performance of Helen Gamboa who sang her own swan song version of “You Don’t Own Me” and Pilar Pilapil who carved a highly dignified portrayal of the wife who must bear everything to keep the family intact.

Pablo Tariman with Jullie Daza, author of "Etiquette for Mistresses" with common friend Elnora Halili.

Pablo Tariman with Jullie Daza, author of “Etiquette for Mistresses” with common friend Elnora Halili.

“Etiquette for Mistresses” is superb cinematic mirror through which we can look at Philippine society and how it puts uncanny emphasis on shallow façade of respectability.

Ironically, the film ends up as an uncomfortable mirror on which to view the many fascinating facets of Filipino male machismo.

In the end, the film is not about mistresses but more about the misters who succeeded in challenging the weak foundation of marriage by unknowingly imposing social decorum for mistresses.

Etiquette is defined as the customary code of polite behavior in society.

The latest output of Direk Chito shows us the damming hypocrisy behind social graces.

“Etiquette for Mistresses” is now showing in all theaters.

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