Vibrant new Filipino indie gives new Meaning to “Writer’s Strike!”
DIRECTED BY MARTIKA RAMIREZ ESCOBAR/FILIPINO/2022
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MARCH 14, 2023/MUSIC BOX FILMS
The exuberantly independent Filipino comedy/drama Leonor Will Never Die (Ang Pagbabalik ng Kwago, lit. “Return of the Owl”) has a lot to say, but one thing it says the loudest is that it’s creator, Martika Ramirez Escobar is going places! Still quite young and radiating an unsuppressed zest and zeal for filmmaking (as confirmed in the Blu-ray bonus features), this ambitious and creative debut feature stands to be the start of an incredible career.
Oddly enough, the punk and petite Ramirez Escobar has chosen a stout older woman (a radiant and wonderful Sheila Francisco) to be her onscreen surrogate- if that in fact is what’s going on here. Leonor is- was– a working screenwriter of violent Filipino action movies. But these days, she’s just another dithering aged woman spacing off important bill payments and puttering around her dumpy little dwelling. Then one day, a small old TV set drops from the sky (actually, her careless neighbors’ high-up apartment window) and meets hard with her unsuspecting noggin. Then it’s “Over the Rainbow” time for Leonor!
Naturally, she awakens in one of her action film scenarios. Leonor Will Never Die, however, is not your average tumble through the looking glass. As Leonor faces off with thugs of her own making, she gives new meaning to “writer’s strike!” In reality, the poor woman languishes in a coma. Will she make it? Or will she take up permanent residence in Great Hereafter and/or her within reeling mind, where her consciousness currently resides? In any case, Leonor has some unresolved issues to work through. Trauma. Can her mental conflating of tragedy that’s occurred in her real life and her unfinished action screenplay be the avenue she needs to emerge the hero of her own story?
Music Box Films has made Leonor Will Never Die available on Blu-ray, sporting an appropriately colorful and at times gritty transfer. Much care, thought and precision obviously went into evoking a recognizable 1980s VHS-era action film milieu. That care has been carried over to the film’s presentation on disc. There are moments of Leonor Will Never Die that feel like forgotten R-rated Miami Vice-inspired direct-to-video curio. It’s day-to-day making us chronicled in the filmmaker’s own video journal project, Creature Feature, included on the disc.
Along with the movie, there are several interesting bonus features on the Blu-ray. Director Ramirez Escobar has participated and even created a few of them. Her scene-by-scene audio commentary is a lively thing, bursting with pride and the electric drive to make movies. She’s on camera for the featurette A Film That Built Itself discussing the myriad of challenges that she and her crew endured to get Lenore to the finish line and in front of people. (And truly, any film that gets to the finish line is an achievement). Debuting this film as part of online film festivals due to pandemic safely measures meant the tremendous disappointment of not being able to debut it to a live audience. Still, Lenore did well in various competitions.
Pusong Bato (Stone Heart) is Ramirez Escobar’s twenty-minute student thesis film. In it, a washed-up older actress finds herself hopelessly in love with a rock (yes, a rock) after a painful encounter with it. As evidenced by her apparent, jam packed with VHS tapes and her old movie posters, she mentally trapped in her own past as a young darling matinee idol. In the meantime, her real life is falling apart. While not perfectly in synch with what goes on in Leonor, it’s still quite apparent, just from these two films being paired, that Ramirez Escobar is and has been deeply fascinated with the breaks between past pop culture, an insider’s attachment to it once life has moved them on, and the ramifications of being unable to separate from it. Pusong Bato is a strong debut, particularly for a student film. It’s a great inclusion on this Blu-ray, in particular. Other Lenore features include a basic photo gallery, the film’s trailer, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and an artwork gallery.
Operating as a lo-fi D.I.Y. homage to Filipino action cinema of several decades ago, Leonor Will Never Die spikes that particularly masculine punch revealing it to be the brainchild of a woman in a flowered dress. To go another level outward (and Leonor Will Never Die loves to onion-peel itself away, delivering surprising new layers all the while), the actual movie is the complex and personally crafted work of a girl. That’s right, everything’s gone through the looking glass- and this time, it’s personal!
99 min. Widescreen; Soundtrack: Filipino; Subtitles: English. In Filipino with English subtitles.