In one sequence in Milo Sogueco's Mariquina
, shoemaker Romeo (Ricky Davao, who inhabits the role with unabashed fragility) attempts to salvage whatever he can save in his warehouse from the flood.
His teenage daughter, Imelda (Barbie Forteza, who inhabits the delicate role with laudable maturity) suddenly appears in the scuffle, wanting to help or at least express some concern over her father's misfortune. Romeo, flared by desperation in the face of the threat of ruin, coldly orders his daughter to return to her room and to leave everything to him.
Mariquina is peppered with sequences like this, sequences that subtly expose the cracks and fissures in the relationship between father and daughter. In that particular flood sequence, Sogueco smartly reveals Romeo's enduring conflict and also his fatal flaw. In the face of calamity, he depicts Romeo as unable to cope with his loves, his vocation and his only daughter. The film expertly explores how those cracks and fissures heartbreakingly widen to the point of no return.
Sogueco correctly understands that the very core of this exploration is not intellect but emotion. Mariquina is a film that succeeds in communicating the feeling of loss and despair in the midst of work-a-day normalcy. The film is most potent when it recounts moments of separation.
In another notably affecting scene, Romeo quietly listens to his daughter's telephone conversation with her estranged mother. Sogueco structures the particular scene with both characters appearing in the same frame, but separated by conspicuous barriers and spaces. The exquisite heartbreak of that scene, although already manifested by the dialogue written by Jerrold Tarog, is further enunciated by Sogueco and cinematographer Sasha Palomares' meticulously conceived visual design.
While Mariquina appears to be preoccupied with Imelda (played by Mylene Dizon as an adult), whose quest to find leather wingtip shoes for her deceased father frames the main plot through flashbacks, the real heart of the film is in fact Romeo, whose efforts to maintain his identity as a shoemaker despite economic hardships seems to be at odds with his own familial strife.
In his debut feature Sanglaan (The Pawnshop, 2009), Sogueco also rendered a character, a widow who shrewdly manages a failing pawn shop, whose vocation dictates most of her identity almost to the point of suffocation. Sogueco seems to be fascinated by individuals who are fractured by obsessions, which are mostly defined by their status as second-string capitalists.
Sanglaan, however, does not fully comprehend the dilemma of its most interesting character because it needlessly divides itself with other less involving narratives. Mariquina triumphs because it concentrates on Romeo's grand failure. Even the film's framing device, which shows how Imelda has grown to be stoic and unaffected, is rooted on the longstanding effects of Romeo's deficiencies as a family man. The entire picture revolves around one man's insufficiency and inadequacy. It is quite right that it begins with that one man's ultimate downfall, his suicide.
Mariquina is a work of admirable restraint. With a narrative of daunting breadth that traverses various decades, Sogueco was able to craft a film without any unnecessary histrionics or false political agenda, notwithstanding the very rare cameo of the very politically alienating former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Subdued and sublime, Mariquina ironically manages to evoke the good, the true, and the beautiful from a story of a loser whose most notable work other than his handsomely crafted but obsolete shoes is the sterling imperfection that drove his daughter to apathy.
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