An actress working mainly in theater for several years, Mae Paner landed her greatest role when she, along with a ragtag team of advocate artists including esteemed playwright Rody Vera and other theater performers, uploaded a video on YouTube in 2008. The video features Juana Change, a full-bodied woman played with such infectious rabidity by Paner, playfully lampooning issues hounding Philippine society then.
Paner has the look of the great Filipino comediennes of old, the Zoraida Sanchezes and the Nanette Inventors, who proudly parade their unusual beauty and trademark heft, to turn themselves into actual jokes instead of just deliverers of jokes. Paner understands the value of attention she gets. She mesmerizes with the curves she utilizes mostly for laughs, but earns much respect with such timely wit that makes her inevitable didactics palatable. After several years and several more online videos that garnered for Juana Change several more thousand hits, Paner, like one of those superheroes whose real names have become irrelevant because of their larger-than-life alter-egos, would be more known by the public as the fictional crusader she has created.
Juana C. the Movie
does not stray far from its roots, which is good. There are no deep stories here, no exquisitely crafted characters, no grandiose ambitions to be anything other than a straightforward satire. The film's storyline is reminiscent of the thinly-plotted titillating films from the 90's where the formulaic plot of barrio innocents being spirited away to the city to become overworked prostitutes served as mere frames for gargantuan breasts to be exposed for the pleasure of the repressed audience and the profit of enterprising producers.
This time, Juana is the provincial lass who finds herself beholden to the allure of the city only to be left in debt. She is then forced her to sell her body. As a prostitute that caters to very specific needs, she is later on exposed to judges, senators, governors, generals and other personalities that hold sensitive positions or roles in government. Unlike its more exploitative and commercial ilk, the storyline is mostly milked for jokes, which range from the corny and crass to inventive and inspired.
Directed by Jade Castro, who directed Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings
(2011) with a similar stance regarding the utility of what seems to be lowbrow humor to subvert and convert, Juana C. the Movie
works best as a caricature of Philippine society. By enunciating and exaggerating immense national issues to the point of ridicule, the film brings the discourse to a level that is readily understandable to the common man. In the real world, mining generates employment in exchange for the pollution. In the film's world, mining grants wealth to the already wealthy and turns a river into an acid trap. There are no grey areas here, no draining intellectualizations, no lengthy rationalizations, just crystal clear delineations between what is right and what is wrong.
In the end, the film properly addresses sticky national issues within the perspective of a universally-accepted concept of morality, which is immensely good for starters. The film does conclude with a caveat that its happy ending is short-lived. There is more to be done once the caricature's over and reality overtakes the chuckles.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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