The hype is true. Emir is indeed the biggest Filipino musical you’ll ever see. However, the ads failed to mention that it is also one of the best local films released so far this year.
Budgeted at over 50 million pesos, the film is truly epic. From the sand dunes of Ilocos Sur to the verdant rice terraces of Ifugao to the palatial homes in Middle East and back to the picturesque Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, the bold and majestic musical sweeps up the viewer on a magical carpet ride. The film soars so high that when the ride gets jerky due to a dragging song here and a few anti-male bashing there, the ensconced viewer is barely shaken and continues to enjoy the wondrous journey.
The voyage of Ilocana lass Amelia (Frencheska Farr) takes her to an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She ends up as a nanny to Ahmed, only son of a sheikh. She does an exceptional job raising Ahmed and gets shortlisted for the position of majordomo. She rejects the promotion. That decision somehow saved her from being killed in an uprising. Amelia returns to the Philippines and finds some of her dreams coming true.
Emir showcases the singing and songwriting prowess of Filipino artists such as Dulce, Bayang Barrios, Ebe Dancel, Gary Granada, and Chino Toledo. Although the songs are not radio-friendly, they do a neat job of fleshing out the narrative. The combination of excellent soundtrack and exotic choreography of Douglas Nierras is pure cinematic joy. There are several show stopping scenes such as the street dance in Ilocos and the tears-inducing duet of two ladies. The latter is a heart-wrenching elegy about love.
I find the duet between Dulce and Farr to be too long. But, if we consider the song’s length as aping the long-winded goodbye of Filipinos, then it makes sense. And, with the beautiful voice of Dulce, the scene is bearable.
My major complaint with the film is its refusal to tackle the deeper reasons behind the Filipino diasporas. The filmmakers avoided blaming the government for the export of Filipino workers. It may have something to do with the film being produced by the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
It is a pity that the film is not raking in lots of money unlike a Sarah Geronimo movie. Farr may not be as popular as Geronimo but she fits perfectly the role of Amelia. She is morena and, according to a press release, has Ilocana blood. Blessed with a full-bodied voice, she was able to hold her own against veteran performers in the film. She has a great potential to make waves in the theatre scene.
Good local films are on a roll. First it was Noy, then Emir, and, three weeks from now, several entries from the 6th edition of Cinemalaya will surely mesmerize us as well. If you’re planning on purchasing a Cinemalaya festival pass, then troop down to the CCP Box Office. Festival passes are very, very limited and worth PHP1500. That's a bargain if you consider the ticket price of PHP 150 per screening. And who knows, there may be a re-screening of the majestic Emir at the CCP during the Festival.