Albert Martinez's Rosario, stripped of all its gloss, is essentially about the titular woman, played illustriously by luscious Jennlyn Mercado, whose fate seems to be dictated by her passions unleashed that during that time were severely discouraged, especially for women. Nonetheless, Rosario, presumably out of an upbringing influenced by the liberalities preached by America, the Philippines' new colonial master, succumbs to every call of her flesh, first with her father's trusted assistant (Yul Servo), whom she marries to the chagrin of her parents, second with her best friend's boyfriend (Dennis Trillo), which caused her separation with her husband and her children, and third, with her landlord's enamored nephew (Sid Lucero). As such, it holds immense promise beyond the trite melodramatics that usually accompany such material.
However, the film, like the many well-dressed and well-made up characters that populate it, is far too concerned in decorating itself to be anything more than an expensive ornament. Given that the film is mostly set in the early-1900's where the Philippines was recently given to imperialist America by Spain, the film expectedly features costumes, sets, and details that match the period. Thankfully, the film's artisans and craftsmen sufficiently cater to the demands of its period aspirations, making sure that even the minutest detail takes part in the momentary illusion that everything happened in a past that is best remembered through encyclopedias and history books. Yet after several minutes of being drowned by a barrage of period details, the film little by little gives off an inorganic feel that distracts from rather than complements what the film attempts to convey.
Rosario's main problem is the abundance of good taste. Martinez makes most of the material, orchestrating what essentially is a grand production of sights and emotions. There is an attempt at some sensuality here, all glimmering and oiled up, bursting in the shadows. Artsy is the word, if we are going to be sincerely blunt about it. Prude, too. It is as if any display of overt sexuality in a film about a woman whose downfall has more to do with sexuality than anything else is taboo. The film, with all its grandiose depictions of the era where the story is supposedly situated, shies away from the grime and the dirt and polishes everything with undue gloss. The result is something definitely pleasing to the eyes but evidently soulless like an expensive commercial for an obsolete luxury cologne.
The film's good taste seeps into its decision to pronounce its relevance. Rosario's story is framed as a flashback by aging Hesus, played by Dolphy endearingly, who tells his mother's story to his wealthy nephew in an attempt to prove his identity. It's a needless framing device. First and foremost, it places the story within the grasp of being adjudged by a character in the film. When Hesus concludes the film with a theory that his revelation to his nephew has washed away the sins of his mother to the family, it reeks of moralization, belittling the story as simply a tale of caution of the ill effects of sexual expression, a panacea to the generations-old hurt that a single family has experienced because of a matriarch who has been endowed with the new liberalities of the twentieth century.
Rosario, in the end, will be seen only as well-made, arguably smartly directed, and elegantly crafted and if only for that, will be placed in a pedestal by a country that has hungered for films that could approximate those done by Hollywood. If film appreciation only stops there, then Rosario may indeed be a success. However, it does not. A film has to be stripped of its clothes and ornaments. It has to be felt, to be appreciated, to be penetrated, once, twice, thrice, and as many times as one wants, until its soul is bared to be seen by all. If it fails in that tenor, then it is nothing more than an expensive spectacle, delightful while you're watching it and a distant blur as soon as the theater lights are up.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)