February 12, 2009

Namets is namit

MIGGY and I caught the last showing of Namets at the Robinsons Galleria on Feb. 3 .

The plot is simple: Jacko (Christian Vasquez) incurs a gambling debt to the local kingpin Boss Dolpo (Peque Gallaga). To pay off the debt, Jacko turns over his Italian restaurant to Boss Dolpo. But Boss Dolpo wants Jacko to stay on as chef, at the same time, he wants the restaurant to become a moneymaker. In comes Cassie (Angel Jacob), who studied in the prestigious Les Roches in Switzerland but curiously works as a caterer in Bacolod (ngek!), and whose food Boss Dolpo enjoyed at party. The latter takes her on as a restaurant consultant. (Btw, I wonder if the name "Jacko" was a play on the Ilonggo word "dako" meaning big. Mmmm...Vasquez sure gives me the shivers.)

Right off, we already could smell some history between Jacko and Cassie and that they would probably fight w/ each other but still end up back in each other's arms. (Predictable but oks lang. This is after all, a Pinoy movie so predictable plots and storylines are a given.) All this time, Oscar (Dwight Gaston), Boss Dolpo's right hand man, provides the one constant thread of humor in the film as he makes his boss' wishes known to all. (Boss Dolpo keeps stuffing his face w/ food so he can hardly speak. It is only Oscar who understands him.)

(Christian Vasquez as Jacko. Sorry ladies, he is completely clothed in this movie.)

Namets isn't really a serious film of great historical or cinematographic importance. But it's a sweet little film wrapped in all good things Ilonggo or Negrense - the food, the people, the sweet singsong/lambing of the dialect - which unfortunately, makes its audience too limited. Throughout the film, only Miggy and I were laughing out loud at the touches of wit and Negrense humor. The other two in the audience were strangely silent; perhaps the humor didn't translate well to English.

True the writing needs some polishing as some scenes appeared contrived. Like one of the vignettes showed a man teaching his children how to eat chicken inasal/sugba and what dipping sauce one should use - I thought this was an excuse to show the audience what inasal is all about. Or the part were Jacko's mom gives him the recipes of his lola, which miraculously transforms his character into someone who found Negrense food "boring", into someone who believes it's God's gift to humanity!

I also thought the characters needed to be fleshed out further. Jacko cooks, he owns a restaurant, he is Negrense. How could he not know that the special souring ingredient used in kansi (beef stew) is batuan, a small green fruit endemic to the Western Visayas region? Cassie, the Swiss-trained chef, had to be the one to show him the ingredients to this yummy broth! The irony here was that the supposed irony in the said scene failed to be ironic. I have yet to meet an Ilonggo who doesn't know what batuan is and what it's used for.

Those little inconsistencies aside, Namets is cute. There was just something comforting about hearing people talk in one's dialect. The acting was effortless for most of the cast – Dwight Gaston was positively brilliant, so was the girl who played Jacko's sister, Ronnie Lazaro as a man trying to feed his children by slaughtering their pets, and remarkably, even the kid who played Lazaro's son perpetually screaming as he tried to prevent his father from doing the deed. What was troubling though was that Vasquez, despite being a Negrense himself, seemed uncomfortable and a bit stiff in his performance. But Jacob was a pleasant surprise - I didn't she could act as I always see her hosting, although in a few scenes she did tend to be shrilly and OA.

Some of my Ilonggo friends were critical of Jacob because she didn't speak like a Bacolodnon (or as MAR Roxas says it, "Bacolodian," LOL!), but then she is not an Ilongga, unlike the other cast members. Still, I thought she gave it real effort and pasable na sya. (I'm not a native speaker myself having grown up in Manila so perhaps I'm a tad kinder to her attempt at speaking the dialect.)

(Angel Jacob plays Cassie. Photos from Namets web site.)

Being a small budget film, understandably Namets wouldn't be able to attract bigger name celebrities who could've help expand the audience beyond the limited Ilonggo market, which is unfortunate, because the film was truly respectable in its intent, w/c was to showcase Negros and its food. I wouldn't put it exactly on the same level as Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, or Like Water for Chocolate, but the film's limitations considered, I think this was a great effort on the part of Director Jay Abello to show other Filipinos or cultures how our food bonds us together. I think people should see Namets when it gets shown again. Miggy and I enjoyed it, laughed at the jokes, salivated over the food (and marveled at how Peque Gallaga has grown even bigger).

I haven't seen Bacolod since the 1980s and watching the film made me miss it tremendously. The last time I was there, McDonald's didn't have a branch yet, and the best hotel was still Sugarland, yikes! Oh I miss the piaya, the kansi, the batchoy, the napoleones, sigh...

Congratulations to Abello and cast for making a heartwarming film. I look forward to seeing more Ilonggo films in the future.

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