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By Pablo A. Tariman
May 9, 2016


            If you managed to survive the last elections, this is a good time as any to re-live it and count the times you:
1.    Cursed the TV commercial featuring the infamous siblings;
2.    Reflect on the movie stars who did it for the money and those who didn’t (there are those who still believe principle counts more than endorsement contracts);
3.    Tried to hold on to sanity by simply watching FB go to the dogs with warring camps.

             Too bad, Quark Henares’s “My Candidate” is opening two days after the elections when it could have been a good film in which to review Filipino culture as it touches on the regular elections. You expected heavy drama or a lot of finger-pointing but this film happily entertains as it allows you to come face to face with the reality of Philippine elections.

            Indeed, there is a lot going for "My Candidate” foremost of which is its ability to make its audience laugh amidst the absurdity of our political exercise. It is as timely as the last elections and it brings you right into the inner sanctum of political strategists trying to improve the chances of their respective candidates.

            You are ushered into the office of Congressman Sonny Suarez (Derek Ramsay) who is just himself has no intention of endearing himself to the masses.

            But in this age of digital imaging and high profile PR, a potential candidate has to project himself “properly” in the right medium.

            Meanwhile, the congressman’s chief of staff -- played brilliantly by Nico Antonio -- sees PR disaster when he sees one. There must be a way of improving his boss’s chances in the coming elections.

            And off they hire a PR stylist in the person of  Billie Pono (Shaina Magdayao) who does all the works from selecting the right clothes, choosing the right TV show and how to answer questions and deliver moving speeches.

            But Pono is herself in need of someone who can untangle the many questions about her own life. She virtually rose from Lower Depths to Privileged Status and she has acquired an aura of chutzpah that makes her look like an authority on public relations. Indeed, she is one of those practioners who believe that “bad publicity is still publicity” and so she comes up with this idea of her subject drinking to death, just enjoying himself and the while episode is shown on nation-wide television. It is bad exposure all right but viewers notice his good looks and his being a natural. She turns the bad impressions into positive points and she succeeds without trying.

            As Magdayao tries her best to make Congress Suarez the Ideal Candidate, she finds out the big opponent was no other than her subject’s former girlfriend (Iza Calzado) who has mastered the art of posing with babies in the campaign trail.

            While enjoying the absurdities of Philippine elections, director and writer manage to humanize the characters and weave something infinitely human about candidates and their promoters.

            The screenplay is both witty and intelligent, the direction taut and direct to the point. The director knows how to project his character as he connects with people inside and outside the inner sanctum. They have ironed out what will work and will not work.

            But as in all Philippine elections, one camp is wary of the other candidate’s winning points. PR strategist declares war and launches “demolition” ads against her subject’s main rival.

            But she is reminded that dirty tactics will not sit well with him and how dare her presume that he will like those mud-throwing.

            Here finally is your chance to see what goes on inside the “war rooms" and the "political safe houses" and what everybody does to get public approval.

While the subject is as serious as the national elections, Director Henares finds a way to deliver his "serious" message with a touch of humor and irony. Thus you find yourselves guffawing through familiar political ploys strategists use to get the best exposure for their candidates.

Nico Antonio turns in a highly commendable performance as the congressman's chief of staff, there is a new Shaina Magdayao in this film as Billie Pono I won’t be surprised if she is nominated for an acting trophy in this film. Best of all, this latest role will most likely bring in more acting nominations for Derek Ramsay as Sonny Suarez.

As it is, Henares succeeds in making the subject of Philippine elections as hilarious and as absurd in equal doses.

It is both informative and entertaining and the good thing about it is that we can all look at our faults with a sense of glee and perhaps find a way to right the wrong without the agonizing process.

Thus far, “My Candidate” is the best film I have seen dwelling on Philippine elections.

It outpaces Jun Urbano’s “Juan Tamad Goes to Congress” and most of all, it doesn’t lose its grip on reality like Brocka’s “Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak” which portrays Filipino politicians at their worst.

If you have unfriended a lot in FB because of political altercations, it’s time to watch “My Candidate” for relief.

It opens in cinemas May 11.

    Pablo A. Tariman

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