LAV DIAZ AND CHARO SANTOS ACCORDING TO JUANA CHANGE AND NONIE BUENCAMINO
By Pablo A. Tariman
There is a bit of Everyman and the dregs of society in the new cinema of Lav Diaz and character actors Nonie Buencamino and Mae Paner felt they got the ultimate acting challenge of their profession.
The ex-convict (wrongly accused played by Charo Santos), the prison guard (played by Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change), the abused transvestite tramp (played by John Lloyd Cruz) and the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino) dominate the black and white masterpiece of the acclaimed Filipino film director.
Charo said she had to visit real women inmates to feel the part and Juana Change as the prison guard was always on the look-out on how she could perfectly blend in a very realistic, if, jarring prison scene. “I play the role of a warden who breaks an information that changes Horacia’s life of 30 years in prison. I enjoyed discovering the nuance of the character so she is not simply presented as black or white. Connecting to her spine was the special challenge of that role.”
Earlier, she begged the director to give her a role in an earlier film, “Norte” and it turned out she didn’t have to exert extra effort. In the process, she discovered how cineaste worked as a director. “It was easy because I found out that Lav (Diaz) is a Juana Change advocacy fan. He even bowed to me. Talagang kinilabutan ako. I am truly humbled. As a director, Lav gives you so much freedom to attack your role. And that, while challenging, is very daunting. Freedom can be scary.”
Working with her prisoner Horacia (Santos) also gave her a chance to re-discover the person behind the actress.
She recounts: “It was our first day of shoot when I met Charo. I enjoyed giving small tips like adjustments on how she sat or flicked her finger, to calling the make-up artist to put some color on her ‘labanos white’ legs. It was my way of bonding to prepare myself for our scene together. Actually I risked doing it to an ABS-CBN top executive. But I knew where I was coming from. She could have easily put me in place but to my pleasant surprise, she welcomed the concern and even showed appreciation for my effort. I am fortunate for this opportunity to know her as a co-actor. I felt we were equals. She also shared what I ate on the set. No special food for the star. She also made time to talk us-her co-actors. I felt her working relationship with cast and crew was very real.”
Nonie has more or less the same observation: “I played the role of a balut vendor always roaming the street to find more customers. I met Horacia (Santos) and ended up being with her at night. I am in some way a narrator who introduced her character. I know the neighborhood so I tell her about it. My character is also a very opinionated balut vendor. I enjoyed the improvisation scenes. I also enjoyed the highly inspired scenes with Charo. She’s a great actress I must say.”
Juana Change has a spontaneous impression of Diaz as film director. “Wala halos take two kay Lav. Kung ano ang ibigay mo, that’s it. And he is ultra-cool. He provides a stress free environment on the set. When you hear him say ‘Wasak’ and ‘Rakenroll,’ it only means you are doing okay. And when we hear his assistant director say ‘Flying paper,’ it means an additional scene is being written for you. He is perpetually inspired when he is making his film. Parang spring na walang awat sa pag-agos.”
Nonie points at the director’s special quality. “Lav is very encouraging. He gives a lot of leeway to the actor. He is the type of director one wants to perform his best for. On the other hand, Charo is so dedicated as an actress. I forgot she was the big boss of ABS-CBN because she is innately a trooper, and an actress who loses herself in her role. It is challenging to work with Lav because he trusted me so much. There were so many long takes. If I didn’t commit to the scene or did not concentrate, I could mess up the take. The same goes with Charo. There was one scene where her look was so intense, I fumbled my line. After that I prepared harder. John Lloyd (Cruz) was so real and fun to be in a scene with.”
The character actor can more or less gauge why the director succeeds in his own style. The lessons Nonie learned working with him? “I learned that If you have the story and characters very clear in your head, and you have a very good story to tell, a big chunk of the work would have been done. I learned that the atmosphere need not be stressful for everyone on the set to come up with a good film. What is rewarding for me now is the knowledge that I’m part if a film that won the highest award in the Venice Film Festival. More importantly, I got to act for Lav Diaz. Filipinos should watch this film because it’s an excellent story and conveys many layers of special message they will find relevant to what this country is going through.”
Juana Change points out why she can relate to the latest Lav Diaz film: “After a validation from Venice with no less than the Golden Lion award, I am all the more excited to watch this film. We, in the Juana Change advocacy, make short political satires. Diaz makes them long and very poignant. We both want to break free from the nefarious elements that bring us down as a nation and we use cinema/videos as our medium to present our worldview. Our art aims to transform. Lav is a great film maker whose art is deeply rooted not only to his love for country but also to a spirituality that connects him to the world. He is the rock star of Philippine cinema. An iconoclast. What did I learn from him? That if you build it, it will come!”
“Ang Babaeng Humayo” directed by Lav Diaz opens September 28 in cinemas.