Sarong Banggi, from the producers of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, is not the type of film that you would be inclined to proclaim right away as excellent or even very good (unlike Maximo). But it would be difficult to leave a viewing of the film unaffected, either by mild disgust, unwanted stirrings in the mind, or insistent tugging at the heart. Or all of the above. The way the film plays with the lights of Roxas Boulevard and the Baywalk area is mesmerizing, almost akin to the play with Hong Kong lights in Chungking Express, and its chaotic mood is first belied by the lead characters' almost static states. But of course, nothing stays still for long. When Jaclyn (Jacklyn Jose), the aging prostitute, and Nyoy (Angelo Ilagan), the innocent looking for his first time, finally meet, there is the anticipation of a break in the monotony, an interaction that would allow for a bit of drama to stir things up. And how it does! It is not any graphic sexual scene that captures the mind and the heart in this movie but the revelation that shatters the core of Jaclyn that "one night" (the literal translation of the title). It is a twist that I predicted very early on in the film, and as soon as I thought of the possibility of it happening, what went on repeatedly in my head was: "Please don't let me be right."
But I was. I was disappointed at first that the film had to take such a drastic turn. I thought the twist forced, contrived, predictable. And it would have been all those things and worse if the film had not ended as it had. The scene with Nyoy falling asleep on Jaclyn's lap as she watches the night turn into morning (the full impact of it is understandable only to those who know what happened) is still haunting my mind a day after the viewing. I do not think it will go away so soon, powerful as it is. It is made doubly effective by the running of end credits at the side of the screen during that particular scene. Instead of the technique serving as a distraction, it gives the movie a painful finality. You know that as painful as it is, it will have to end the way it ultimately does.
Jacklyn Jose, who I have always believed to be one of the Philippines's finest actresses, comes across in this film as nothing short of amazing. She effortlessly carries the character through stages of insightful, creative boredom (when she has nothing better to do, she makes up stories about people she sees) and of sheer, raw agony. She is a natural. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Ilagan, a new actor, who comes across as stiff and excessively rehearsed in both stance and speech. But there are moments when you can glimpse some promise, and that is saying a lot when he has to share scenes with veteran Jose. He may get better yet.
I still do not think that the film is a masterpiece or somewhere close to being one, but it is undoubtedly a powerful, touching picture that would lodge scenes of itself indelibly in your mind and heart, whatever you feel about that final revelation. Grade: B+