IMELDA Marcos is yet again in the spotlight.

The “Steel Butterfly” has been granted a new lease on immortality with Imelda, the controversial, critically acclaimed documentary by Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz. The film, which won at the Sundance Film Festival aroused public clamor here in the Philippines when Ms. Marcos obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against its public exhibition, claiming she had been “duped” into the interviews, thus laying her life out in a purpose she said she did not approve of. Controversies and legal squabbles later, the TRO was lifted, and Imelda is upon us.

The film opens with Ms. Marcos in her pink tour van, looking splendid in an aquamarine ensemble while instructing her driver to distribute her photos to the swooning mob outside, which doggedly followed her entourage. It is 1998, in the middle of the presidential campaign with the Madame eyeing the presidency.

Early on in the film, Imelda is epitomized as the Mutya–often star of town fiestas who sang for General Douglas McArthur and Irving Berlin. Eventually, she is crowned Muse of Manila, catching the eye—––and the wedding band, of course––of the dashing Ferdinand Marcos. And thus starts her unprecedented rise to power: from a lowly barrio lass to First Lady of the republic.

After Marcos’s ascent to Malacañang, Imelda quickly settles in as First Lady. She not only places the Philippines on the map with projected beauty, love, and peace, but also erects buildings which emphasize cultural and health-conscious projects which her “reign” so highly regards. Imelda sets for herself an identity so distinct that her first name alone conjures an image of timeless grace and elegance. She molds herself into an international cultural icon.

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After some time, Imelda also becomes synonymous with notoriety. Her “fall from grace” begins shortly after the 1969 national elections. The public falls out of the “Imelda love affair” it got itself into. Shortly after, in a very fitting “grand finale”, right after the EDSA Revolution, the Marcoses evacuate the Palace and flee into exile.

Diaz defined into Imelda’s thoughts, which the voluntarily shared, even reading some lines from her book, Circles of Life. She also gamely speaks about her take on the balances in this universe. It is evident that Imelda’s charms have not faded with age.

The film portrays the person as a self-absorbed, manipulative, and cunning woman. Still in the movie, son Bongbong said that he is yet to meet a woman that is as smart as his mother. During his and his sister Imee’s political campaigns, she uses her craftiness and cunning to land them their positions as she had for their father. She is, according to Bongbong, a “seasoned politician”.

Subtle as she is, Diaz never failed to give her audience the downside of the things. She painted Ms. Marcos as “Imeldific” as she can get. She filmed Imelda’s attendants cleaning a rack of her expensive ternos, and contrasted it with slum residents hanging their torn and threadbare clothes in makeshift clotheslines.

But where are the shoes she is so famous for? Never once did they make an appearance, but it is roughly estimated that she owns over 4,000 pairs, and supposedly never wears the same pair twice.

The playful quote, “Thank God when they opened my closet, they found shoes, not skeletons,” which serves as the movie’s catch line, poked the public with the candorness and wry humor that is totally inherent of Imelda.

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A powerful portrait of a woman consumed by society, the kindness it offered her and the cruelties it had biting her in the end, Imelda shows the “Steel Butterfly” at her best and worst. It pieces together this country’s modern history, through her eyes–the eyes of a fallen icon.


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