Foster Child: Cherry Pie simply brilliant
By Butch Francisco
At last year’s Gawad Urian, one of the frontrunners for best picture was “Kaleldo” by Brillante Mendoza, also nominated for best director. And even that early, I was sure that he would again be in the running at the next Urian Awards for his new project “Foster Child”.
Written by Ralston Jover, “Foster Child” unveils the existence of families (I never knew was there all along) that care for abandoned babies waiting to be given to their prospective foster parents.
In “Foster Child”, Cherry Pie Picache (as Thelma Manlangqui) cares for three-year old John-John (Kier Segundo), who was put in her custody and care when the boy was an infant, a sickly newborn so small he could fit in a shoebox. Helping her care for the kid are her laborer husband, Dan Alvaro and biological kids Alwyn Uytingco and Jiro Manio. A social worker, played by Eugene Domingo, visits their home regularly to check John-John’s progress.
It is a day in the life of a foster home that we see in this latest Brillante Mendoza masterpiece. (“Foster Child” was given an A grade by the Cinema Evaluation Board.) Although the Manlangquis are poor, they are able to care and provide for little John-John. More importantly, they give him the love and affection he needs especially at this stage of his life.
“Foster Child” is shot like a reality show and I am amazed with the manner in which Brillante Mendoza is able to present the story in such a realistic fashion—like there was no script and yet everything is cohesive.
The actors deliver their lines very naturally, as though there isn’t a script (they probable didn’t and perhaps were just given a situation and told to make ad-libs). The result smacks of so much truth and realism. Going over every scene, it’s like we’re eavesdropping on our next-door neighbor’s everyday conversation.
In “Foster Child”, the actors do not perform and do not act. What they do is live and ingest the situation and breathe life into every scene. You can’t get any more realistic than that.
Brillante Mendoza’s cast members to begin with are among the finest actors in the industry. Eugene Domingo is one of the best character actresses we have today on TV and in the movies. Dan Alvaro was an Urian best actor nominee in 1986 for “Bagong Hari.” Alwyn Uytingco was impressive in “Tanging Ina.” Jiro Mano is the youngest Urian best actor winner (for “Magnifico”) in the history of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.
Even the kid Kier Segundo delivers a performance that would eclipse the veterans in the acting profession. At age 3, his timing is already impeccable.
Of course, the film belongs to Cherry Pie Picache, who delivers yet another excellent performance and I have to say that she is simply brilliant in “Foster Child.” I have no idea what kind of competition she faced in that Indian film festival that crowned her best actress (for “Foster Child”), but it is safe to say that she indeed gives a performance that is truly award-winning in this movie.
The film is a winner—from direction, script (nothing phony in the dialogues), and all the way to the live sound. Heaven knows how they were able to fit a film crew into the shanty home of the Manlangquis, because we see great photography here. The locations chosen for filming are also perfect and the director succeeds in showing the contrast between the squalid dwellings of the Manlangquis and the fabulous hotel suite of the child’s new foster parents.
In the hotel bathroom that is practically the size of the Manlangquis living area, Cherry Pie gets so intimidated by the hugeness of it and is shown at a loss on how to work around the hi-tech bathroom fixtures. It could have been a comical situation, but it pinches our hearts instead because we see the wide gap between the rich and the poor in this scene.
The story of “Foster Child,” however, is feel-good; there’s not one nasty character here. The children are good kids, do not resent their foster brother (even if he gets all the attention in the house being the baby) and, in fact, even dote on him. The neighbors are friendly—not your typical squatter hoodlums and chatterboxes. For sure, you will give the thumbs up to the goodness of humanity while watching this film.
But a good cry is in store for the viewers in scenes I can’t divulge without giving away the ending. I assure you, however, that you will leave the cinema having faith in humanity—and even in the present state of local cinema. (“Foster Child” got a standing ovation when it was exhibited at the Directors’ Fortnight in the last Cannes Film Festival.)
“Foster Child” is a film about nurturing. It is this and other excellently crafted films that may possibly bring Philippine cinema back to its healthy state. Keep them coming.
Directed by BRILLANTE MENDOZA; Screenplay RALSTON JOVER; Cinematography ODYSSEY FLORES; Production Design BENJAMIN PADERO; Editing CHARLIEBEBS GOHETIA; Music JERROLD TAROG; Sound EMMANUEL CLEMENTE & ARNOLD REODICA; Cast CHERRY PIE PICACHE, EUGENE DOMINGO, JIRO MANIO, ALWYN UYTINGCO, DAN ALVARO, KIER SEGUNDO (as John-John); Produced by CENTER STAGE PRODUCTIONS & SEIKO FILMS