Friday, August 13, 2010

Donor (2010, Mark Meily)

Indie film favorite Meryll Soriano loves doing Cinemalaya films. In the competition’s six years of existence, she has appeared in six noteworthy film entries. She won the Best Actress award for her role in Room Boy at the first Cinemalaya competition. In 2006, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino bestowed on her the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in Rotonda. Four years later, she will romp off with the Best Actress award anew at the Directors’ Showcase category of the Cinemalaya 2010.

In Donor, Soriano churns out a mesmerizing performance as Lizette Bernal, a vendor of pirated DVDs in Manila. On her daily commute to work, she always makes it a point to read job notices at an overseas employment agency. One day, she chances upon a wanted ad for a video store clerk. From a direction-less woman ambling by, she regains a sense of direction and purpose in life.

Bernal decides to get away from her do-nothing lover, Danny (Baron Geisler). The loss of a job pushes her to pursue her dream of working abroad. The required placement fee left her with no choice but to donate her kidney for a fee.

The illegal trade of organs caught the attention of director Meily during a trip to North America. He worked with several others on a script. Somehow, the setting was set back to the Philippines. He was amazed to learn of a street in Manila where scores of tricycle/pedicab drivers have donated their kidneys for a fee. Kidney transplants seem to be more rampant than figures collected by government agencies.

The underground selling of kidneys became so bad that in 2008, the Department of Health (DOH) issued an administrative order imposing a total ban on kidney transplantations for foreign patients. In 2010, the DOH issued another administrative order prohibiting health professionals from engaging in the kidney trade.

Donor shows how the high demand for kidneys prods people to search for legal loopholes. Lizette Bernal marries a Jordanian in order for the kidney transplant to push through. She gets to fulfill her dream of wearing a wedding gown and hopes to fulfill another dream with the money she will receive from her husband. The amount of 100,000 PHP received by Bernal is a far cry from fees shelled out by moneyed kababayans abroad. Excluding plane ticket and lodging expenses, the amount can get as high as 270,000 PHP for a kidney. The clamp down on commercial kidney transplants forces brokers to bring willing donors to other countries.

Watching Meily’s film is like attending a filmmaking master class. The tight script has several funny scenes. I had a blast with Soriano’s reply to a foreigner looking for a DVD of the French classic The 400 Blows. Karla Pambid, who seems to be channeling Joyce Bernal, is wickedly hilarious with her wisecracks.

Meily also does a bit of channeling, only this time it is a different Bernal. He shoots a gripping abortion scene that recalls Ishmael Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit. The classic film stars Maricel Soriano, aunt of Meryll Soriano. The younger Soriano inherited her aunt’s expressive eyes, spunk, and acting chops. The acting of Meryll in Donor is a must-see. The way she uses her eyes and brows to convey what she feels is a joy to behold. Baron Geisler was able to keep up with the bravura performance of Meryll. I can't forget the look on his face when he realized that he is short of money to buy a condom. The searing image of Geisler’s bullet-ravaged head is one of the iconic Cinemalaya scenes that will be etched in viewers’ minds.

Donor and two other entries to the Directors’ Showcase show that dream projects of veteran directors deserve to be given grants. The outstanding films somehow compensated for a weak batch of New Breed films. Only the Mindanaoan films, including Arnel Mardoquio’s Sheika, were at par with the works of the veteran directors.

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