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MANILA, Philippines – “Ekstra: The Bit Player” is a movie that die-hard Noranians must see more than solid Vilmanians.
One admires the contrivance of this paradoxical film – in which the Star for All Seasons deglamorizes herself as a bit player, while the other stars in this movie (Piolo, Marian, etc.) practically function as extras in their cameos.
There is nothing new anymore about deglamorizing one’s celebrity. But when it is Vilma who does it, she is rejecting wholesale, at least for this moment, her entire body of strong, fierce, yet distinctly feminine characters.
The Vilma Santos of “Ekstra” is a different person altogether from the superior, dignified Vilma Santos of the past – directed by the likes of Danny Zialcita (check out this video at 2:00) and Ishmael Bernal – as in the awesome stillness of this scene, also with Nora Aunor.
No doubt, “Ekstra” is an earnest tribute to the extras. But the film also plays or trifles with the impulses of the public that sustains the viability of showbiz.
We are always happy to be entertained, to be rendered kilig by an inspired frivolity like this. And we gladly part with our time and money to fuel the entertainment machine.
Here, Vilma is Loida Malabanan, a haggard, weight-challenged bit player struggling in an out-of-town shoot for a serye.
She wears oversized shirts, carries with her a heavy bag of clothes (a movie star would have a chauffeured van as her mobile closet), and rides in a cramped shuttle with fellow “extras” heading for an early-morning location shoot.
She would sleep on the cold concrete floor in a given night, at other times on the damp grass under the shade of a tree in the middle of a sugarcane field, while waiting with the other bit players for their call.
In one scene, she would just be a face in the crowd, in another, a house servant.
In other words, this is Nora Aunor’s territory, as defined by such critically acclaimed films as Eddie Garcia’s “Atsay” and Lino Brocka’s “Bona” – the Nora Villamayor (the Superstar’s real surname) production in which La Aunor derided her own stardom by playing an alalay to Phillip Salvador’s bit player.
So it’s nice that Vilma is virtually paying a nod to Nora, and in the indie world that has been Nora’s playing field for some time.
Tart Carlos’s role as Loida’s best friend, who happens to be a die-hard Noranian, further underscores “Ekstra’s” Noranian connection.
“Ekstra” is directed by Jeffrey Jeturian, whose films “Pila Balde,” “Tuhog,” “Kubrador,” and “Minsan Pa,” among others, have won awards here and abroad.
His Cinemalaya entry in 2011, “Bisperas,” won five awards in this festival, including Best Director and Best Film in the Directors’ Showcase category. It won’t be far-fetched if Direk Jeffrey gets as many awards in this year’s Cinemalaya.
Much like his “Ekstra,” Jeturian has a multifaceted persona as a film director. Apart from his independent films, he directs the top-rating noontime serye, “Be Careful with My Heart.”
If “Ekstra” tackles the hardships of a single mother trying to make a living for herself and her teenaged daughter, it still remains a steadfastly fun, light-hearted film – and also a quasi-satire on the people in front of and behind the cameras.
The film brings us to a day in the life of a top-rating soap opera and gives us a glimpse into the chaos of a location shoot.
In a sense, it’s like a companion piece of “Be Careful” or its back story, and Tart – the bobbed-haired “kikay” maid Doris in that serye – also happens to be on board.
Unlike the bleak earnestness of some of Nora’s social-realist films, “Ekstra” is in the same milieu but it’s a comedy that your dependable laundrywoman can relate with.
The real “extras” here, as noted earlier, are some of the biggest names in the industry.
In the soap within the film titled “Nauna Kang Naging Akin (You Were Mine First),” farmer Piolo Pascual and daughter from wealthy landed family Marian Rivera are lovers caught in a you-and-me-against-the-social-system, embodied by Cherie Gil’s haughty matriarch.
But this plot is merely a background sketch reflecting the social dynamics of the movie set depicted in “Ekstra.”
Even so, Vilma’s Loida is rendered all the more dispensable in that thin plot, wherein Cherie’s character later on inflicts torture, making a human ashtray of Loida who naturally turns in a realistic performance.
Cherie the actress then becomes solicitous to Loida, thereby presenting her own paradoxical persona as a warm and spontaneous personality often typecast in villain roles.
This film is an alluring hall of mirrors. You have the once universally admired Pilar Pilapil portraying an aging, forgotten actress, alongside a current major celebrity like Piolo Pascual, whom we know to be pretty ambivalent to the point of exasperation about his stardom.
Also in the cast of cameos are Richard Yap of “Be Careful” and Tom Rodriguez of “My Husband’s Lover” fame.
Their very appearance references the soap milieu in which the versatile Jeturian is equally adept. Seasoned serye performers Cherry Pie Picache and Eula Valdez further underscore the soap connection.
Other cameos worth noting are film director Marlon Rivera as the cantankerous soap director and Vincent de Jesus, the composer, playwright, and theater and TV actor, as Rivera’s harassed assistant director.
Rivera had his triumph in Cinemalaya in 2011, when he won Best Director for “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank,” which was also named Best Film in the New Breed Category and bestowed the Audience Choice Award.
De Jesus wrote the score for the musical adaptation of Bernal’s classic “Himala.”
So when you watch these two amazing artists ham it up delightfully in their unflattering roles, you realize it’s not only Vilma deglamorizing herself in this project.
In that sense, “Ekstra” is a film that turns cinema inside out, hiding the glamor we perceive about this world and exposing its messy underside.
Movies about making movies are mostly a fascinating spectacle. One remembers cinema’s self-referencing in the likes of “8 1/2,” “Day for Night,” and “Bona.”
Judging from the sold-out tickets at the CCP box office days before Cinemalaya opened, “Ekstra” could also be the next big thing when it shows in commercial theaters in August.
It’s amazing that five decades into this business, the Star for All Seasons still has that perennial appeal. – Rappler.com
August 4, Sunday, is the last day of Cinemalaya, which will hold an Awards Night this evening. As of this posting, ‘Ekstra’ will be shown at 6:30 p.m. at Greenbelt 3. The film will have its theatrical release on August 14.