Thomasian filmmaker Gil Portes made an exceptional take of an otherwise cliché plot—the impasse of family dilemma—in his latest film, “Ang Tag-Araw ni Twinkle,” screened last September at the Sineng Pambansa All Masters Edition Festival.

The film stars Elen Adarna as Twinkle Marie, Chris Villanueva as Cenon Payawan and Arnold Reyes as Ka Ruben. Also included are Rina Reyes, Dominic Roco, Marc Acueza and Pinky Amador, among others.

The film begins with a brutal encounter between soldier Cenon Payawan and communist rebels. Among those wounded is the rebel Ka Ruben. Thinking Ruben has died, his wife rushes to shoot the military only to be gunned down with their baby still with her in a sling. Cenon, filled with pity, adopts the baby and names her Twinkle Marie.

Eighteen years later, a mysterious man lingers by the Payawans’ gate for several nights. Losing his patience, the now-retired army general Cenon orders the man to be abducted and confronts him. The man introduces himself as Cenon’s sworn enemy many years ago—Ka Ruben. Now ridden with colon cancer and with only a few months to live, Ruben demands to see his long-lost child even just for an hour. Cenon hesitantly agrees.

Meanwhile, Twinkle is now a drug addict and fails a majority of her subjects in school. Triggering her already rebellious attitude is the admission by Cenon that she is adopted.

She is forcibly taken to their family farm in the province to undergo drug rehabilitation. She complies, but requests for her biological father to stay with them until his death. Despite their differences, Cenon and Ruben join forces for an unlikely cause—to save a daughter from her self-destructive ways.

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The film’s dialogue sometimes comes off a bit awkwardly, but is saved with its honest delivery by the actors. Reyes, for example, makes Ruben's heartfelt views on life, family, politics, ideology and religion convincing. Villanueva as a military man and a father appears a little too lenient, but manages to redeem himself during the highly charged confrontation between him and the military at Twinkle’s birthday party.

Adarna’s portrayal of Twinkle is worth praising. She appears hard and tough on the surface, but is actually a fragile daughter wishing for her parents’ love and affection.

Meticulously selected, the locations were perfect for the film’s production design. The beach, in particular, was a perfect backdrop for an unusual take on family reconciliation.

Portes, who took up Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at the University’s then Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, had a successful career in advertising prior to filmmaking.

“It was fulfilling to some extent, yes. We did brilliant campaigns,” Portes said in an interview with the Varsitarian. “One day, I woke up and I said, ayoko na.”

Portes said the film’s storyline is loosely based on a story he heard when he was a child.

“Nagkaroon ng encounter ang military at ang Huk, and an infant na anak ng kaibigan ng nanay ko na Huk ay nawala during the encounter,” he said. “Nagkagulo doon sa kampo. Wala naman nakitang bangkay, so the mother suspected na kinuha ng military ‘yung bata, ‘pero di na niya nakita.”

Portes said the story became fixated in his mind.

“Sabi ko, ano kaya mangyayari sa bata? Palalakihin ba siya ng militar?” he said.

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The film updates the incident and so the Huk has been recast as the New People’s Army. In some small way, it’s Portes’ take on conflict resolution.

“If I had the solutions, eh ‘di sana nasa Malacañang na ako,” he said. “It is going to be tough; we will never see it in our lifetime that there will be unity between the government and rebel groups.”

With his film “Liars” in the recent Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival gaining much accolade from critics, Portes said his aim is not to bore his audience but to “always tell a moving, poignant story.”

“Maybe my audience may not agree with me or find it revolting,” he said. “Basta dapat hindi sila ma-bore; I want my audience to think when they watch my films.” Marianne S. Lastra with reports from Alfredo N. Mendoza V

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