Does Adolf Alix Jr.’s “Kontrabida (The Villain)” winning a Netpac (Network in the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award for Best Asian Film) at the 6th HIFF (Hanoi International Film Festival) held in Vietnam early this month still merit attention?
Of course. Not only is “Kontrabida,” the Philippines’ entry in the festival, directed by a prolific and award-winning film artist such as Alix, it is also starred in by no less than the Superstar of Philippine Movies, Nora Aunor.
Yes, Nora is still the Superstar—a moniker exclusively attributed to her, a title that launched the copycat bandwagon among would-be heirs and heiresses to her throne to perpetuate their popularity, market value and positioning in the dog-eat-dog world of show business.
Nora Aunor matters, no matter what. Stars come and go, but Nora stays.
It’s because she is the quintessential icon and embodiment of the Filipino psyche, particularly the masses and the middle class and what comes in-between. She is here to stay as a prototype of Filipino fickle-mindedness, even madness.
The adulation Nora Aunor received in the tumultuous second half of the 1960s until the 1970s and beyond may have waned, but she still gets a lion’s share of the commonplace and silent fandom. (Of course, there are still the screaming Noranians.)
It’s because she commanded and still commands a large bulk of the Filipino masses—the social class, the station (pun intended). She sold iced water at the Philippine National Railway station in Iriga City before she went to Manila, studied at St. Paul in Parañaque City, and eventually joined the amateur singing contest “Tawag ng Tanghalan” at ABS-CBN when it was on Aduana in Manila yet. She emerged champion, jumpstarting her show biz career as a teenybopper.
Where she comes from, there she remains. It’s a class she is most attuned to. No matter the social ladders she has climbed, she still goes back to the base, the hoi polloi, the perennial bakya (wooden shoes) crowd—and she enjoys it, being more comfortable breaking bread most of the time with her fans, except when she wants solitude.
The so-called silent majority is still familiar with “La Aunor” no matter the advent of the millennials and the Gens X, Y and Z. It’s because it’s the same socioeconomic structure in show biz, laid bare in the current crop of stars and their followers, whether on TikTok or teleseryes.
There was a time when protesting Filipinos rallied behind Nora Aunor, seeing in her the traits of the ordinary, sharing with her the ideal pursuit of equal footing if not economic balance in places and circumstances under the sun. as she deconstructed the mestiza movie-queen mystique in favor of brown skin and plain looks. They still do.
How many times had progressive organizations like Bayan and Migrante associated with her and made her speak for their causes, like freedom from oppression, exploitation, colonialism, bureaucrat capitalism, feudalism, imperialism and other social ills? And Ate Guy (“Ate” a term of respect for an elder sister or any other woman whether blood-related or not, “Guy” an endearing nickname) would obligingly toe the line, and later vacillate and return to her vantage point on the fence? And then go back on past political decisions and defect to pols deemed unsavory by many?
Interestingly, Nora Aunor resonates the cult of fanaticism that she fashioned in her prime. She is as fanatic as her avid fans even after all these years of enlightenment, Western thought influence, modernity, selective freedoms, etc. For example, who can explain her being a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late dictator? Is it a debt of gratitude, or impressionability? (Many Filipinos are wont to depend on a prominent person projected as savior during crucial times no matter that person’s many factual negative factors.)
For all that, Nora Aunor isn’t a “has been,” and it’s doubtful that she will ever be.
By virtue of certain knowledgeable critics’ assessment of her aesthetics, the state has conferred on her the Order of National Artist for Film (the highest honor a Filipino artist can achieve).
So Nora’s critics and naysayers say that she’s already a dismal flop at the box office. Still, an artist is not gauged solely by his/her commercial viability, but by the impact of his/her artistic creation on the enhancement of society and the improvement of the human condition.
Noramania, a representation, is still the sleeping giant of the Filipino masses. The Noranians and other Nora Aunor admirers, or simply the moviegoers, may not quickly take up the cudgels for her or fork out a few bucks to buy tickets to her films. But they are sympathizers nonetheless of her image as the oppressed and the underdog—the same marginalized space she occupies no matter her magnitude and royalty.
They, too, are social volcanoes waiting to erupt
The Netpac citation sums it all up about Nora’s ability to render life and veracity in Alix’s art work: “For the fascinating portrait of an old actress confronted [by] isolation and human loneliness and finally the sudden irruption of the Covid pandemic.”
This is a valuation worthy of appreciation, but still waiting to be validated by other filmgoers.
The HIFF jury was composed of credible experts in the field—RanJanee Ratnavi Bhushana, a Sri Lankan screenwriter, journalist and film critic; Luong Dinh Dung, a Vietnamese director, screenwriter and producer; and Max Tessier, a French critic and historian.
As the adage says, old soldiers, such as artists like Nora Aunor, never die, they simply fade away.