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'Ang Maestra' review: Heart in the right place

Lemuel Lorca's Ang Maestra is fueled primarily by sincere spirit, which leaves most of the film lacking even the slightest tension to make it anything more than an amiable advocacy film.

That isn't necessarily a problem since the film seems to be very aware of its humble limits. It works well enough and the emotions it gently triggers are mostly earned despite the relentless melodrama.

A tale of two teachers

The film centers on two women who are about to take their board exams.

Aya (Anna Luna) is an aspiring teacher who comes from a poor family from the province. A scholar who still has to do part-time tutoring just to be able to graduate from college, she makes do with the very little she has.

She meets and befriends Gennie (Angeli Bayani) at a review center. Gennie is an Aeta educator who, despite repeatedly failing to pass the board exams, insists on still making her way to her tribe's remote village to teach and inspire the children to be more than what their parents tell them to be.

TEACHING EACH OTHER. Gennie (Angeli Bayani) and Aya (Anna Luna) review for their exams.

TEACHING EACH OTHER. Gennie (Angeli Bayani) and Aya (Anna Luna) review for their exams.

The film pits the selfless ambitions of the characters with overt societal problems, creating a rather obvious but unquestionably affecting subtext to the film's advocacy.

The film is most powerful when it carefully details the little hardships the two women have to face to achieve their goal, such as when Aya is forced to ask for extra strips of tape to be able to continue her presentation or when Gennie, while selling snacks, scolds her son for suggesting that he stop schooling while pointing out that they are still blessed compared to the beggars who just passed by.

 

Beautifully acted

Ang Maestra works because it rejects being lofty even in the moments when it can attempt to go for more profound emotions.

Its simplicity is complemented by the beautiful performances of Luna and Bayani who dignify their characters with grace and nuance. It is easy to turn their characters into mere objects of pity considering how Lorca has the propensity to assemble scenes that rely heavily on the magnification of the characters' sacrifices, but Luna and Bayani seamlessly quell all the needless color and emphasis.

TIME. Actress Gloria Sevilla with real-life daughter Suzette Ranillo in a scene from 'Ang Maestra.'

TIME. Actress Gloria Sevilla with real-life daughter Suzette Ranillo in a scene from Ang Maestra.

'

Gloria Sevilla, who plays a teacher nearing her retirement, adds a lovely touch to the film's straightforward design.

In a way, her character's thread feels slightly disconnected, considering how focused the film is on seeing its two main characters triumph amid all the challenges. Yet the old teacher's tale, which is somewhat truncated but intriguingly sorrowful, contributes a bittersweet flavor to the tale's predictable happy ending.

Nobility of teachers

FOR THE KIDS. Gennie with students at the school.

FOR THE KIDS. Gennie with students at the school.

A mellow ode to the nobility of teachers, Ang Maestra definitely has its heart in the right place. – Rappler.com

 

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.