A cinematic miracle by all accounts, Gabi Ng Himala: Mga Awit At Kwento brings together the biggest, boldest, and bravest to honor a Filipino masterpiece that speaks volumes today as it did over 30 years ago.
When asked to recall a memorable line in the history of local Philippine cinema, nothing comes quicker to the fore than the dramatic, but highly complex and nuanced monologue of Nora Aunor in her incandescent portrayal of Elsa in what is arguably one of the greatest Filipino films of all time, Himala.
In the dramatic exploration of faith and the human condition, the Ishmael Bernal helmed and Ricky Lee penned 1982 masterpiece dissects the blinding effects of idolatry and social realities that permeates the boundaries of time and space. “Walang himala,” begins Elsa, addressing a crowd of roughly 3000 in the arid expanse that sets the spiritual drought of the fictional town of Cupang. “Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao. Nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng himala. Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga Diyos. Walang himala.”
It is a gut-punch of an exasperation, a steady crescendo of tension that is fuelled by a desperate conscience wanting to right a gospel truth fashioned from a crooked, misguided belief. And in a sterling performance that has in effect become the barometer of fine acting in the country and in the world even, Nora Aunor essays a spellbinding and spine-chilling culmination in the penultimate scene coddled by the unbridled unraveling of misleadings, misgivings, and pent up emotions. But as explosive as it was then, it is the words that still ring true to today, permeating generations and a seeming life imitates art scenario, what with the parallels to faith resigned, an epidemic, and even a wave of heat that is nothing short of claustrophobic and maddening.
Mirroring the reality that we exist and strive to survive in on a day-to-day basis, Himala was the anchor that moored a night of conversation and cinema in Gabi Ng Himala: Mga Awit At Kwento, the initiative by the Lockdown Cinema Club that was aims to reach and help an average of 3000 low-income, no-work-no-pay independent Filipino film workers displaced and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Presented together with the Ricky Lee Scriptwriting Workshop and Sagip Pelikula, the online fundraising effort was immediately a big draw with its promise of script readings, musical performances, and a panel discussion, attracting the names of local industry luminaries such as Joel Lamangan, Charo Santos-Concio, Nora Aunor, and the master himself, Ricky Lee, as well as of artists and directors including Aicelle Santos, Marian Rivera, Dingdong Dantes, Iyah Mina, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Dan Villegas, Jericho Rosales, Petersen Vargas, Nadine Lustre, Bb. Joyce Bernal, Piolo Pascual, Jodi Sta. Maria, Olivia Lamasan, Angelica Panganiban, Maja Salvador, Ricky Davao, Tom Rodriguez, Lav Diaz, John Lloyd Cruz, and Lea Salonga.
“Kaluluwa nating lahat ang mga kwento,” says Ricky Lee in his interview with Bianca Gonzales Intal and Ryan Agoncillo who reunite from their Review Night days to moderate Gabi Ng Parangal: Mga Awit At Kwento. According to him, while it was written over 30 years ago, he was pleasantly surprised at how the weaving of his narrative has not only stood the test of time, but also functions as an important message to remember in a grim point of our lives. There lies the beauty and magic of effective storytelling—it transcends its very context and lays itself to the truth that pervades in a contemporary setting. In fact, it is this very same concept that made this effort possible. “Itong Himala, ay tanggap ng kahit na anong panahon. Sini-signify niya ang mga hinaing, ang mga problema ng kahit na anong panahon. Itong panahon natin ngayon ay mararamdaman natin ay nasasabi din sa Himala,” explains Joel Lamangan. “’Yung pagkapit ng tao sa himala, dahil sa kahirapan, dahil sa kawalang pag-asa, dahil sa akawalan ng pagmamahal. Kaya sila kumakapit sa tinatawag nating himala at umaasa sa himala. Kaya nga sinabi ni Nora sa ending, hindi totoo ‘yan, ang himala ay nasa puso natin.”
Despite the limits of space and movement, you can see the message come across in different contexts and subtexts. In the varied displays of process and execution, the soaring denouement lends itself well across motivations. From the well-realized retelling of Marian Rivera and generational reality of Nadine Lustre, to the quiet but evocative turns of Iyah Mina and Jericho Rosales, the stirring back-and-forth of Piolo Pascual and Jodi Sta. Maria, and Maja Salvador and Angelica Panganiban, and even the brilliant switching of point-of-view from medium to audience in Lav Diaz’s simmering short film, Himala: Isang Diyalektika Ng Ating Panahon featuring a casting coup of some of the finest thespians in film and theater led by the elusive John Lloyd Cruz, the coalescing of doubt, hope, and empowerment sings through, making it very clear that this a story of and for everyone.
“Mahirap magsabi ngayon kung ano ang bukas para sa ating lahat, but I don’t think dapat matanggal ang value of storytelling habang nabubuhay tayo. Patuloy dapatang paglalahad ng kwento,” compels Charo Santos-Concio. “’Di ba sa kwento nga at marunong magkwento, walang hadlang. Maaring mahirap sa simula, at you know, it will take time for all of us to adjust, pero kita niyo naman ‘yung ginawa ni Direk Lav [Diaz] kanina, ‘yung Diyalekta, nabigyan niya ng bagong interpretasyon ang isang klasikong material ng Himala. So, walang hadlang sa pagbibigay buhay mo sa kaluluwa mo at kung ano ang nasa kalooban mo.”
Relevant as it was in its inception to an enduring persistence of cinematic storytelling, Himala was really on to something when it insisted that the miracle we long for doesn’t lie with anything or anyone else, but rather, it is a seed that is already planted within, waiting to be watered and cared for, hopefully growing and branching into something inspiring for all the world to see.