“Leonor Will Never Die” in three words: quirky, meta, meaningful
In case you haven’t heard one of the biggest things to come out from the weekend, here it is: Cinemalaya is back, and it opened with none other than Leonor Will Never Die. In case the title isn’t familiar to you, it premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival—the first since Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2006). It won the Jury Award for Spirit of Innovation, too.
Leonor Will Never Die follows the story of an aging Leonor, who was previously a famed filmmaker. Now barely able to do anything without her son berating her, we find out that she has an unfinished script; and it's this fictional story that intertwines with reality. But when Leonor falls into a coma (after a television falls on her head), she has the opportunity to finish her film, at least without the burdens of the real world (but not without dodging the literal yet fictional bullets).
The film, if you haven’t already imagined it, is a little quirky. The cinematography alone reminds me of 90s action movies that I wasn’t allowed to watch. The acting is too much yet almost robotic; the movie is cheesy yet so incredibly meaningful. And Leonor, in the “real world,” talks to her dead son that appears transparent, because how else are we to understand that he’s a ghost? There’s a dance number in there somewhere, too.
Sheila Francisco plays the titular Leonor, and she plays it to a tee. She’s the lola you are undoubtedly already imagining in your head: short white hair, a bit slow with her steps, frustratingly stubborn and always—always—in a daster. Bong Cabrera and Anthony Falcon play her non-ghost (Rudy) and ghost (Ronwaldo) sons, respectively.
In the unfinished film that plays in Leonor’s unconscious mind, Ronwaldo is also the name of the protagonist, who is very much alive, incredibly unyielding and is the ~protector~. An action star if there ever was one (and there have been plenty). There’s even a scene where he buries his enemies in cement and asks them: Sino matigas sa ‘tin ngayon?
But Leonor? She’s the real hero. She’s the real damn thing.
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Leonor Will Never Die is a meta film through and through. It has too many layers (Inception comes close) and too much to say, but at its heart (and in its ending) lie some basic truths and beautiful moments. I read a lot of other reviews; they talked about heroism and fake heroism, some decided to focus on the drug war-bit of the film. But we all seem to agree about one thing: That ending—right before they break into song—is brilliant.
Check “Leonor Will Never Die” and other Cinemalaya 2022 titles through their schedule here.
Art Alexandra Lara