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REVIEW: "Sidhi"

Lito B. Zulueta, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1999

THE ULTIMATE NORANIAN MOVIE

"Sidhi," the new Nora Aunor movie, is a prime example of the actress' majestic range of achievements. She is certainly one of the most gifted to grace the screen.

Depending on who's watching, too, the movie may also show the pitfalls of extreme fan adulation of its makers, certainly among the most fervent of Nora Aunor cheerleaders.

Based on the late Rolando Tinio's Palanca-winning teleplay expanded into a movie script by Ricky Lee, "Sidhi" is the engaging story of Ah (Aunor), so called because she's mute and can only utter the first syllable of her name Anna.

He private world is filled with conversation with her late mother and play-acting with scarecrows.

Her father (Ray Ventura) is dying and is intent on marrying her off so that someone can take care of her when he's gone.

Enter Miguel (Albert Martinez) a traveling middleman who, lured by her modest land inheritance, agrees to marry her. She's delighted and promptly sets up a scarecrow in the field to honor her husband.

In the absence of her traveling husband, Ah meets Mayang (Glydel Mercado), and they become fast friends.

Accompanying Mayang to her house one day, Ah chances upon Miguel and learns he's also married to her new friend. It's only a matter of time before Miguel can bring Mayang to Ah's house.

Angered at first, Ah cozies up to the scandalous cohabitation, even setting up three scarecrows in the field to represent her ideal household. She even has herself crucified on Good Friday to atone for her sin of accomodation.

But when Miguel tries to play a dirty trick on her to make her sell the land, Ah fights back.

**Unsustained thesis** As a mute, Aunor deftly turns into acting greatness the circumscriptions that come with the role. She makes full use of her expressive face, particularly her fecund eyes, to etch an array of emotions and turn worldlessness into something eloquent.

Under Joel Lamangan, a fine actor's director, Aunor gives a sublime performance, easily one of the hallmarks of her long and spectacular career.

Perhaps it's a mark of her greatness that Aunor excels, despite a material hobbled by either overambition or thoughtlessness. Although tackling the rather constricted topic of an unorthodox love triangle, "Sidhi" lacks focus and meanders.

For example, the setting in the 1950's is very artificial and awkwardly established by the introduction of a Huk character, killed off soon by the authorities, to be a telling comment on the agrarian troubles of that era. But the thesis is never sustained.

Worse, it is undermined by the character of Miguel, a penniless but ambitious man who attempts to rob the mute peasant of her land. The poor prey on the poor, the movie appears to say, and in one fell swoop, the agrarian dilemma is trivialized.

Perhaps it is overreaching that dooms the movie.

**Needless words** After setting the story in the agrarian polarized Central Luzon, the movie take son a wild fantasy flight and portrays the secret life of a mute. In what appears to be a take-off from Emily Watson retardate character in "Breaking the Waves," Ah is shown talking to her dead mother, who was supposed to have been also mute, and thriving in a private universe all her own.

But the movie again fails to convince because of its clumsiness. When the two mute characters converse in their magical world, they exchange needless words.

"Alam kong nalulungkot ka," the mother (Angie Ferro) tells Ah, who's disconsolate after the death of her Huk fiance. But of course.

Aunor's character should not only be disconsolate. She should also be appalled by the rigors she's made to go through by the writer and director.

She's made dumb-witted enough to idolize a wife-beater and become a consubine. She's made to plough the field like a beast of burden. She's passed over a night for the younger and sexier spouse. She's nearly duped into selling her inheritance. And to top it all, she's nailed to the cross.

**Terrible scenes** Watching all these terrible scenes unreel, one can't help but feel that Aunor has done all of these before.

Her unconditional worship of her good-for-nothing husband smacks of the "alalay" in "Bona." Her slavish treatment of him has shades of "Atsay." Her disability seems a rehash of "Bakit Bughaw ang Langit?" The spurned wife has echoes of "Bilangin Mo ang mga Bituin sa Langit." The fact that Ah, too, is a miracle-worker (she has the strange gift of treating sick agricultural animals) apppears like a resurrection of Elsa in the memorable "Himala." The only one missing is Annie Batungbakal.

Of course, the novelty here is that she gets to play Christ. But the crucifixion has been obviously grafted to the narrative to belabor the character's pitiful state and provide Aunor with another "high moment" in which to show off her prowess. The fact that it's hardly integral to the story should show that the filmmakers may be either pulling our leg or mocking Aunor.

Perhaps the latter. Despite Aunor's many "dramatic moments," the movie also shows gratuitous sex scenes between Martinez and Mercado, which cause the male hormones to go haywire. How can a crucified Nora Aunor compete with salacious sex?

"Sidhi" has flaws, but it should be seen because it demonstrates Nora Aunor in total possession of her awesome powers. The fact, however, that she is made to portray a role that seems a parody of all the roles that have made her name should underscore that the road to artistic crucifixion is paved with good intentions, even by those who call out, "Nora! Nora!"

Nora's worst enemy may be the Noranians.

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