The widely acclaimed Filipino actress Anita Linda, who has made more than 100 movies since the early 1940s, gives a quietly transfixing performance as the title character of “Adela.” The film, directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr., opens a six-day engagement on Wednesday at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters of the Museum of Modern Art, as part of the museum’s ContemporAsian series.
More About This Movie
A widow and long-retired radio personality whose grown children have left the Philippines to work overseas (except for a son in prison), Adela lives in a shack in the sprawling Bernardo dump site on the coastal outskirts of Manila. A gem of contemporary neo-realism, the movie offers a ground-level view of a poor but vital community where many residents survive by scavenging bits of recyclable steel and plastic.
Adela earns a meager living making soup and noodles to sell to neighbors and to workers at a nearby construction site. Many residents, who are waiting to be relocated, plan to attend a political rally at which they expect to be paid a pittance for showing up.
Some of the film’s most extraordinary moments are scenes in which the stationary camera, observing the world through Adela’s eyes, surveys the teeming wasteland in which everything seems to be in motion. Heavy traffic rushing down a highway that cuts through the area, along with planes swooping in and out of a nearby airport, create a ceaseless din. In other stationary shots Adela is glimpsed in the far distance moving slowly but purposefully through the desolate landscape carrying an umbrella as protection from the sun.
The film follows her over the course of her 80th birthday, during which she visits her son in prison; haggles with a young man about her lost (and probably stolen) wedding ring; attends church; goes to a cemetery to commune with her dead husband; and celebrates with a group of neighbors and grandchildren. The partygoers send up a song that describes the undaunted communal spirit: “The wheel of life just keeps turning/I was on the bottom then/I hope tomorrow to be on the top.”
Adela is a good neighbor. When a pregnant young woman who lives nearby goes into labor, she assists in the birth as a crowd of onlookers gapes at, then applauds, the successful delivery. Alone at home, listening to a radio drama, she parrots the voices of a mother and daughter arguing.
Later in the day, when she looks in at the new mother, who is breast-feeding the baby, her empathy and joy dissolve into silent tears. Her tears return when she walks to a small island adjacent to the dump site and gazes into the twilight. If her embrace of life is tenacious, her loneliness is acute.
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.; written by Mr. Alix and Nick Olanka; director of photography, Albert Banzon; edited by Aleks Castañeda; production designers, Mr. Alix and Jerome Zamora; produced by Arleen Cuevas; released by Bicycle Pictures. At the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, Museum of Modern Art. In Tagalog, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Anita Linda (Adela), Joem Bascon (Benjo), Jason Abalos (P J), Angeli Bayani (Mercy), Perla Bautista (Glenda) and Iza Calzado (Tina).