The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

'Sabel' tackles sensitive topic

By Lito B. Zulueta

If there’s banishment in “Sabel,” it is banishment from gender. Produced by Regal Films, written by Ricardo Lee and directed by Joel Lamangan, the movie is perhaps the most shocking movie last year for its theme of latent lesbianism. It has audacity in tackling a very sensitive matter.

Sabel (Judy Anne Santos) is a nun working in the prison ministry where she gets to catch the attention of Jojo (Wendell Ramos), a man wrongly convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. In the oppressiveness of prison, he rapes her. He falls in love with her and released from jail, he looks for her. His search enables him to piece together fragments of her very enigmatic life.

“Sabel” is an intriguing movie that may disappoint some because the movie hovers between answering the riddle of Sabel and altogether evading it, much like a person evading questions about her sexuality. It seems in fact to depend too much on the reaction of the audience to accept Sabel’s mystery as a given in a world where nothing is really determined nor defined.

For example, the audience is at a loss on how Sabel, who is revealed to have been a problem child in the past with a record of casual sex encounters, could have suddenly become a nun. The character is simply bereft of a religious sensibility. In the same vein, the movie does not explain her sudden altruism when she gives herself up to her rapist. The movie denies all the salient epiphanies so that when she suddenly hooks up with a lesbian doctor serving the indigenous people of the Mountain Province, the audience feels her decision as one of those remote, inexplicable decisions she made in the past. “Sabel” is a character movie with less than a believable character.

Despite its shortcomings, “Sabel” is absorbing to watch because of its assay at the riddle of sexuality as well as the performance of Judy Anne Santos “Sabel” is Santos’s first major acting achievement in her long career.

Philippine Daily Inquirer