Closer To Home: Two views
Film Review

Published in the Philippine Star -
Sunday Entertainment - March 23, 2008

My Favorite Movie
By Eeya Litiatco-Martin

Closer to Home brings to light a phenomenon most often looked upon with a jaundiced eye, not because of the element of ordinariness that somehow has leeched on to it, but because this portrait of a third-world’s social dysfunction (not unique to the Philippines, the situation is replicated in third-world countries) has been relatively ignored by various political leaderships and administrations —and worst, largely accepted with disdain and cynical resignation as an unpleasant fact of life. 
       It is a riveting film touching on the convoluted evils created by society’s imbalances and the cross-cultural differences of two worlds.  An exposition of two societies, two disparate yet similar families, two deeply-feeling contrary personalities with totally contrasting ideas of what “family” should constitute,  the film — about a loving Filipino family (Dalisay’s) held hostage by poverty and social inequality and at the mercy of centuries-old feudal-type (in)justice — is set in an idyllic third-world countryside juxtaposed against the first-world’s own unsettling enigma and communal dysfunction (equally regarded with cryptic cynicism in the “land of milk and honey”) and represented by a lower-middle class New York family (Dean’s), where relationships (in sharp contrast to Dalisay’s family) have been soured by acrimony, bitter jealousies and deeply-rooted resentment.  While Dean’s messianic hope for love comes in the form of a mail order bride, Dalisay sees the much-older Dean as a passage to the land that holds the key to her younger sister’s survival. (Luningning, the sister, has a congenital heart problem and needs urgent surgery).  And while the conflict stems from mutual ideals – Dean pining for the gratification of love and family, Dalisay embodying its sacrificial aspect – the struggle and conflict of the two main characters put together by the transaction and tyranny of love materialize into a crisis. Consequently, the film stirs confusion as the viewer is left to empathize with both characters who assume the dichotomous roles of both hero and villain.  Almost immediately, the perceptive viewer realizes that both are at odds with society at large and are inevitable victims of an oppressive state of existence.
       What is especially notable is the remarkable feat of how the director has added depth to the universal concepts of hope, love and family despite the fact that the characters are devoid of theatrical embellishments.  The dialogues are utterly without histrionic flair and the emotions are raw and vivid.  The main characters unfold as part of a bigger picture and have thus not fallen into the trap of becoming one-dimensional.  The plight of Dalisay’s family, for example, is an unpretentious take on the disturbing reality of impoverished farmers who toil the land with blood, sweat and tears, only to be treated no more than slaves.   The issues align with the present-day crisis of Philippine society — landlords in rural areas who have no room for compassion for the same people who made it possible for them to live in the lap of luxury; and who cannot part with a speck of their riches without laying down an ultimatum tantamount to, and in the end totally undermines, the survival of the farmer’s family and the little they have in the world.   Likewise, it subtly addresses the stereotypical, derogatory notion that a mail order bride is no more than someone who looks upon marriage to a foreigner as a ticket to the promise land.  But the film transforms it into a meaningful sacrifice that is both unexpected and justified. 
And those who scoff at the pathetic desperation of foreigners who treat love as a transaction, as a mere-process of order-taking from third world countries, are in for a pleasant surprise.  That – in search of the dramatic cure for their bleak existence – they (who really seek a wife-cum-homemaker/ideal housekeeper) would turn to a place (Dalisay’s village) where westerners are worshipped is an irony effectively wove into the film.
The foreshadowing is deceptive and the element of surprise in the psychological cliff-hanger further adds to the irony of the situation.  One would have expected two souls who have placed their hopes upon each other, though with different intentions and conflicting processes, to brazenly go against all odds to resolve the crisis.  Closer to Home is a palatable feast for those hungry for a meaningful film that leaves a lingering and yes, maximum impact and goes beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

By Vicki Jugo-Litiatco 

 It is truly baffling that “Closer to Home,” a film produced, directed and co-written by a non-Filipino, the Italian-American Joseph Nobile, depict—more than any other films of the same genre produced by local filmmakers (except perhaps for a few you can count on your fingers)—the Filipino’s fundamental (inherent) nature as exemplified in the main Filipino character (Dalisay): her essence of selfless caring and sacrificial love, her courageous spirit and her incredible do-or-die fortitude.
       But what is more mystifying is that this film, adroitly-and-sensitively-crafted and expertly produced — in all the years since it was first made in 1996 and subsequently released in Manila theaters the same year — has created more sustained interest and received much more commendations in countries other than (in the country) where the story was culled from. 
      More remarkable is the fact that tributes coming from the diametrically wealthier western countries did not stop at mere accolades and fervent acclamations but actually went several steps forward – with a number of those who sang hosannas putting (forgive the irreverence) their money where their mouth is.  Industry and academe, in spontaneous volition, came together to ensure that the film’s powerful message will touch not only a wider spectrum, but impact the segment (of society) with a tangible positional power, to ensure that insights gained and social and moral lessons learned will neither “languish” on screen –nor fade away on paper – but will induce awareness in their own milieu; and ultimately, beyond their elite clique, “infect” and benefit in continuum universal society.  Thus, you have universities in the United States and Canada going as far as to include the film in their college (and in some instances, even high school) curriculum. 
The Storyline
      Watching and “living through” Joseph Nobile’s Closer to Home is without a doubt a retrospective expedition.   (A meaningful experience I would have missed had my sister Mari not introduced me to the film and encouraged me – to be quite honest, virtually “twisting my arm” – to watch it.)  A film with a down-to-earth, common sense quality – or fidelity to real life Philippine situations – it reaches into the deep recesses of the viewer’s soul and mindset, making him pause and for one, reflect on and appreciate his blessings amid the pains.
       Its theme may be considered commonplace but as the finished product shows, Nobile had both feet on the ground while making the film.  His use of fast- paced and slow-paced scenes in alternate fashion is superb—and very effective.  While the storyline is not new, the treatment (in contrast to the usual handling of most local films) is refined and classy, touching yet down-to-earth; the interlacing of the characters’ personalities and angst dexterously executed; and the approach matter-of-fact yet acutely sensitive.  (By the film’s end, I found myself heaving a sigh of relief at the absence of the usual histrionics that characterize many Filipino films.)  Director Nobile’s skillful handling and acute sensitivity are so palpable midway into the film as Dalisay, in a calesa, leaves the peace and quiet of her paradise-village while (Ryan Cayabyab’s) Paraiso is sung in the background.  That short yet stirringly potent scene, with its excellent visuals and hauntingly beautiful music, is both declarative and prophetic:  For Dalisay, it is paradise lost (though she does not know it yet); but sadly (because of Dean’s dysfunctional life), when she finally arrives at her destination – the country many Filipinos regard as the greener pasture – fails to be paradise regained. 
      The cinematic journey evoked in me a gamut of emotions (a lot of them distressing and at times, angry especially at the leering, vicious “bugaw” so realistically portrayed by Vic Diaz); and gave me myriad insights on, and I would say deeper appreciation of, the Filipino family’s ethnicity (its vulnerabilities and amazing resilience) — that, ironically, most of the locally-produced films I’ve watched fell short of.  It also sent through me a cathartic sense of relief for two reasons.  First, on the emotional track: With the help of her more experienced cousin Tess (who advances the money for the usurious loan’s liquidation and hires the erstwhile provincial lass as a waitress in the bar/restaurant in New York that her lived-in American partner owns) — Dalisay solves with relative ease the financial dilemma she and her father are trapped in; and thus, thrashed the imminent loss of ‘home and hearth’ and farmland (that used as collateral to the loan that financed her trip).  And second, on the professional track, the unpredictability of the denouement and (thank God!) uncharacteristic conclusion to the film is indeed a most welcome deviation.  Anyhow, the last element further gives the foreign-produced film redemptive value—its excellence, among other factors, lending credence to and compensating for the many, so-so films of the same vein produced locally in the past. 
The actors
       Director Nobile must have a special acumen for spotting good talents, to name two:  the neophyte Madeline Ortaliz (who played with brilliance the deeply-intense and utterly sensitive yet unyielding Dalisay) and the experienced-but-not-so-famous John Michael Bolger (who played the deeply troubled “searcher” Dean with profound realism).  Having chosen well his leading actors, Nobile fully maximized his directorial skills.  Ortaliz’s explicitly effective and deftly-controlled acting however threatens to dispute the fact that she had never acted and appeared in any movie before Closer to Home.  Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend that one wet-behind-the-ears can deliver and perhaps, even give teachers of method-acting, a technique acquired through intensive and disciplined training, a run for their money. (Lee Strasberg Studios, take note!)  Even the local actors playing the secondary characters (i.e. Jonee Gamboa as the father and Lou Veloso as his cousin) are respected yet low-profile theater and character actors, long distinguished for their consistently excellent performances.  
       The actors’ overall poignant performance and the film’s piquant dialogue presented in passionate yet laid-back fashion should make watching the movie, for anyone, a worthwhile venture and time well-spent. ♥♥♥♥

"A poor young woman whose sister needs a heart operation agrees to an arranged marriage so she can earn money in the United States. A fine debut. Another Green Card romance, but this time, the broader canvas---in both the Philippines and the U.S.--gives the story a wilder emotional range and a near-epic feel." 3 Stars (out of 4)                Michael Wilmington

"Set in the Philippines and in New York City, this co-production has as its protagonist an impoverished young Filipino woman who enters into an arranged marriage with a middle-aged American ex-merchant marine. When would-be bride Dalisay arrives in New York City, she finds her fiance not as advertised and the United States itself a troubling and largely unfathomable culture. This strong, effective social drama cross-cuts between the cultures of the Philippines ( richly observed) and the United States (as the empire downsizes) to give a recognizable if not always heartening portrait of the complexities of contemporaneous world relationships that evole 'when strangers meet'."     Bob Green 

"An effective low-key film about a lonely New York cabbie who wants to settle down and resorts to purchasing a Filipino mail-order bride. The young woman agrees to the marriage as a way of getting a job in the U.S. to raise money for her sick sister's heart operation. The first half of the film shuttles between the girl's struggle to pay the extorting marriage broker and the cabdriver's differculties making final arrangements of his own.

The second half deals with their meeting and the disappointment that ensues after the inevitable cultural clash and dashed expectations. No major surprises in this Philippine/U.S. coproduction, but director Joseph Nobile covers a good deal of ground, both cultural and emotional, with deftness and confidence. The film is also boosted by strong performances from the cast, especially John Michael Bolger as the forlorn cabdriver."   R.P.




"Some months ago, we wrote about "Closer to Home," a movie shot in the Philippines and the United States by American filmmaker Joseph Nobile. Since then, the movie has "gone international" in an impressive way, getting accepted and screened at film festivals in Chicago, Virginia, Hawaii, etc.

And how was the movie received in those filmfests? Chicago: "Another Green Card romance, but this time, the broader canvas-- in both the Philippines and US--gives the story a wider emotional range and near-epic feel." "An effective low-key film about a New York cabbie who wants to settle down and resorts to ' purchasing' a Filipino mail-order bride." "Director Nobile covers a good deal of ground, both cultural and emotional, with deftness and confidence. The film is also boosted by strong performances from the cast, specially John Michael Bolger as the forlorn cabdriver."

Virginia: "An epic, entralling film"

Hawaii: "This strong, effective social drama cross-cuts between the cultures of the Philippines (richly observed) and the United States (as the empire downsizes) to give a recognizable if not always heartening portrait of the complexities of contemporaneous world relationships that evolve 'when strangers meet'." 

"Closer to Home" has also been invited to festivals at La Rochelle, France (June 28-July 8); Cambridge, (July 11-28), Karlovy Vary, (July 11-18); Brisbane, Australia (August 1-11) and Denver, (October 17-25). The hope is that, with all of this exposure at festivals, the film will catch the eye of a distributor who will show the film in various film markets, on TV, etc. This way, the movies's perceptive story can find a wider audience.

What about being shown commercially in the Philippines? No local producer or distributor has come forth to make that possible just yet (because the film has no star value, etc.), but perhaps an alternative circuit can be set up, if enough schools and other organizations are interested. Commercial screenings abroad appears to be more probable because, as Nobile observes, the movie interests a wide range of viewers in various countries. It's scenes featuring the Filipino family have proven to be particularly appealing to filmfest audiences.

The film also elicits a positive reaction from the Philippine American Quarterly: 'Closer to Home' manages to elude the danger of making a predictable film about a social drama currently being played out in many poor nations...

"It does not really zero in on the mail-order bride problem, but merely uses it as a tool to delve into the complexities of world relationships that are brought to the fore when two cultures cross. It is to Nobile's credit that he has managed to assemble an exemplary cast..."   

"After 20 years in the merchant marines, Dean Warren is determined to start a family, though ill equipped to do so. His bride-to-be is a Filipina, chosen from a photo in a NY marriage agency's catalog. When the young girl arrives, she quickly finds her middle-aged fiance isn't as advertised and the United States is a differcult and unfathomable culture.  Filmmaker Nobile has a natural affinity for his characters as they try to overcome the differculties of a cross-cultural marriage. First-time actor Madeline Ortaliz, only 16 when shooting began, is a marvel as the seemingly fragile Dalisay."


"This haunting story of an ex-merchant marine and his mail order fiance shows the link between marriage and commerce. Closer to Home is a quiet film with a deep impact, showing the tragedy in everyday people living everyday lives." 3 stars (out of 4)





Where are the moral busybodies?


CLOSER TO HOME: A movie that deserves a bigger audience

"I'll skip the pleasantries and get right down to the point: I'm angry as hell that Heherson Alvarez, Manoling Morato, Etta Mendez and the rest of the fire-belching, nostril-flaring 15,000-strong moral crusaders who've been hysterically denouncing so-called smut films and clamoring for 'quality movies' are nowhere near the vicinity of any theater that's currently showing Joseph Nobile's valiant, affecting film, Closer to Home.

Now, here's a movie that has 'quality' written all over it, if we mean by quality the amount of effort, intelligence and insight poured into the project. Nobile, a US-based director, has crafted a no-frills but enormously appealing film, thanks to its emotionally resonant subject matter ( a mail-order marriage between an impoverished Pinay and a disaffected, rootless American fortysomething), the largely unknown cast's overall competence, and the director's apparent compassion for and understanding of his characters, whether Pinoy or not.

For a while, Closer to Home teeters on the edge of cliche in delineating one more tale of a cross-cultural romance gone sour (some of the characters' names-Dalisay, Luningning-betray a whiff of romanticized nostalgia for the Amorsoloesque Philippine countryside of old), but Nobile knows how to pull his punches, and heaven knows how rare intelligent restraint can be in Filipino movies.

In fact, what's remarkable about Nobile's film is how it manages to be affecting without being melodramatic: farewell scenes are kept spare and free of tearful fuss, the final shattering confrontation between Dalisay and her American husband-to-be, Dean, staged without Ryan Cayabyab's musical scoring intruding into the scene. Imagine that: a sigawan-sampalan scene without corny background music to manipulate your emotions. This is refreshing filmmaking.

So we've got a movie here that's devoid of sex and violence (save for a couple of shots of topless bar girls) and obviously imbued with intelligence and honest effort. Where then are our moral busybodies, that bunch of sanctimonious do-gooders who've made life hell for Tita Midz and co.? Where are those two media-ravenous priests and their herd of outraged citizens who are, so we've been told, famished for quality Filipino filmmaking? When I watched Closer to Home at Greenbelt, there was a grand total of seven people inside the theater. Where's the rest of the 15,000-strong placard-waving moral crowd?

That's always been the problem with this whole 'porno movies' issue. People don't put their money where their mouths are. Take Belinda Olivares Cunanan, who huffed and puffed in one of her Inquirer columns about how Filipino directors seem unable to come up with simple but award-winning films like Zhang Yimou's Not One Less, which she watched at Glorietta 4 along with the rest of Makati's perfumed crowd. 'Why can't we make movies like this?.' she plaintively asks. I'll tell you why, Miss. Because you won't watch them. Some Filipino producers have gone out on a limb funding superlative movies like Saranggola, Sa Pusod ng Dagat, Mumbaki, Mulanay-films we could all export to other countries with great pride. Yet films that, without exception, bombed at the box-office, despite numerous awards and reams of critical acclaim.

How many among the so-called lovers of 'quality films' have seen these exceptional attempts by our local directors? The elite English-speaking crowd who wouldn't think twice about plunking P80 for a clever and stylish film like The Thomas Crown Affair (the remake, not the Steve Mcqueen classic) can't even part with P40 for a homegrown effort like Saranggola and now Closer to Home. So what do you call that?

If Alvarez, Mendez and their ilk can't take time off their busy TV appearances and scheduled street extravaganzas to even catch a glimpse of Nobile's work and other worthwhile Pinoy films, they have no business clamoring for 'quality films' and denouncing Priscilla Almeda et al, who, if truth be told, only thrive because there's a living, breathing market out there for trash like Sutla.

If the moral majority cannot herd their minions to the few moviehouses that show Closer to Home and make it a blockbuster hit, they can just shove their hypocritical placards up their silly butts, and stop pretending to speak for the rest of us who want to exercise our adult right to choose the movies we like to watch. Quality movies, my foot!"

Gibbs Cadiz  






Finally, 'Closer to Home' comes home!


"Sometime in 1995, we wrote in glowing terms as a way of encouragement about a quiet yet eloquent film done by an American filmmaker, Joseph Nobile, reflecting the Filipino's American dream.

Well-crafted and well-acted, Closer to Home is a social drama filmed in the Philippines and in America about a Filipina mail-order bride. The Nobile movie mirrors the typical Filipino family's fantasy and illusion about America and Americans and the reality of life in the Big Apple to a young Filipina who tries to pursue her dream, but always with her family in the Philippines in mind.

Closer to Home has actors and actresses, competent each in their roles, but no big stars to get in the way  in appreciating the movie. I saw this film when it was entered in the Philippine Cinema Centennial Festival at the SM Megamall in September 1995. The Philippine scenes were excellently taken and the Filipino cast was as good as the American cast if not, better. No big stars but highly competent actors are in the cast.

The lead actress is a veritable newcomer, acting tyro Madeline Ortaliz who plays the heroine Dalisay. The dreamer who wants to help her family in the only way she knows-marry an American and live with him in the Land of milk and honey. John Michael Bolger plays the American who helps her out.

The Philippine cast is composed also of well-known stage and film actors-Joonee Gamboa, Lou Veloso, Lucy Quinto, Ray Ventura, Tony Mabesa and Vic Diaz. The New York  cast: Edward Lane, Ralph Buckley, Jane Gabbert and Elizabeth Bracco.

American filmmaker and producer Joseph Nobile had to stay in the Philippines for about two years to do his film in the countryside. He had to go through the rites of pre-production: casting after auditions and location hunting as well as coming up with his local staff and crew.

He decided to cast a new face in the role of Dalisay so he set some days to audition more than 200 talents. Finally, he chose a young college girl from Novaliches. Madeline Ortaliz was 17 then, a mass communications student at the New Era college. When all the Philippine scenes were finished, Madeline and her mother, Belen, went to New York for more principal photography for a month. 'Tumagal kami roon ng anim na linggo and we stayed in a place they rented for us.' relates Madeline who is now through with her college studies.

The movie, which has been shown in more than twenty international festivals, will be hitting the commercial theaters in Metro Manila on Wednesday, November 17. Finally, Joseph Nobile who is quite vocal for his fondness and admiration for the Philippines and Filipinos has decided to bring his Closer to Home home.

We remember the local saying which says, 'Gaano man kahaba ang prusisyon, sa simbahan din ang tuloy.' What a timely season to come home-at the time when the public (and politicians) make an outcry against exploitative sex films.

Closer to Home belongs to the first batch of 'wholesome, intelligent films' for the discriminating Filipino audience and here we can see ourselves in the eyes of an American who loves us.

Earlier, it has been invited to festivals in Montreal, New York, the Virginia Festival of American Films, Chicago International Festival, Hawaii, Amiens, Sao Paulo and Valladolid. Likewise, it was also shown at the Philippine Festival of the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center in New York in the occasion of the Philippine Centennial.

Also in these festivals: La Rochelle, Palm Springs, The Human Rights International Festival, The Fil-American Arts Expo in San Francisco, Asian-American International Film & Video Festival, the Rennes Festival, Copenhagen Filmfest, Denver Filmfest.

This column is our way of thanking, of paying tribute to director-producer Joseph Nobile who catches the pathos, the humor in the midst of poverty, the beauty in simple lives, ours.

I'm sure he is more in love with us and our people than we are with him.

Thank you, Joseph, for Closer to Home."




'Home' is Where the Art is

NEWCOMER WITH A DRAMATIC ENTRY-Virtual unknown Madeline Ortaliz, then 19 years old,  delivers a searing dramatic performance

By Lourd Ernest De Veyra

"The local film industry is in a rut. But that doesn't mean that producers don't have money. They do. Check out this upcoming movie starring Wowie de Guzman and Judy Ann Santos shot in San Francisco, and the one with Vilma Santos that was done in Hong Kong. Now if they have the money to pay for all the crew's airfare and accommodations on top of these stars' stratospheric talent fees, these production outfits are certainly not poor. And that's probably true for the rest. So why are we still stuck with bold flicks, many of which never earn much anyway? If we're poor, that's because many of us are poor in imagination.

Think about it. Why hasn't anybody thought of a story like Closer to Home? The plot is simple, but it's something that is very real to a lot of Filipino-families: poor girl from the barrios goes to the States as a mail-order bride, but they don't get to live happily ever after. It took a foreigner to tackle the subject, an Italian-American director named Joseph Nobile. And he tackles it poignantly.

Closer to Home, shot in 16mm in 1995, is set to open in local theaters on November 17. The first time it was shown here was during the World Cinema Centennial Festival organized by Mowelfund in October of 1995. It is Nobile's first feature film but has been invited to various film festivals all over the globe-from Shanghai to Spain, France, India, Cairo, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia and major events in the US. It has also participated in many Asian-American and Fil-Am celebrations in the States. Check it out and see why it has become a perennial filmfest invitee.

The film shuttles between the Philippines and New York City. It stars a virtual newcomer named Madeline Ortaliz, a morena beauty who acts out her character named Dalisay with such painful honesty.

Other Filipino members of the cast are a veritable assembly of some of the finest names in acting: Joonee Gamboa, Tony Mabesa, Vic Diaz, Lou Veloso,Connie Chua and Ray Ventura, among others.

Dalisay is the eldest daughter of a poor provincial family. She has a younger sister, Luningning, who has a serious heart problem in need of immediate surgery. Dalisay, a factory worker, is determined to save her and her family from indebtedness. An act of desperation, her father borrows P50,000 from the town moneylender-with their small hut, lot and two carabaos as collateral. The money is used to pay the agent of the mail-order bride racket.

On the other side of the globe is Dean Warren (John Michael Bolger), an ex-merchant marine for 20 years. He returns to New York  only to realize that he has no family and home. His parents have died and his only sister Jan wants to sell their parents' small building space to their cousin Nick, who runs a grocery downstairs. Dean takes a job as a cab driver, determined to start a family of his own. He contacts a marriage bureau. This is how he and Dalisay meet. But when they finally do, it was no storybook romance.

In New York Dalisay feels alienated, despite Dean's warmth. This alienation is heightened when Dean's sister makes her feel most unwelcomed. The situation starts becoming ugly when Dalisay opens up her family's problem. Dean understands and works double time. Dalisay, however, wants to work. Her cousin, Tess (played by Angie Castrence), who has found a rich boyfriend, coaxes her to work in their bar as a waitress. Dalisay leaves Dean, who gets into more trouble with his job. Thereon, a quiet tragedy begins to unfold. 

This is a finely acted film, and Ortaliz is perfect for the role of an innocent, young and desperate probinsiyana. Ortaliz, then just 19 years of age, was picked from the 300-plus girls who auditioned. Nobile considered her long hair, dark, petite, morena features perfect for the role. One of Ortaliz's assets, however, is her eyes-the expressiveness of which would do any Ate Guy fan proud.

Bolger plays his character with brilliant understatement, and shows intensity toward the end. Director Nobile-who cowrote the screenplay along with Ruben Arthur Nicdao-knows when to pull  back just when the narrative begins steering into melodramatic territory. Nobile's film offers no earthshaking element, which is precisely his point. This is a quiet movie, but the tension is palpable inside Dean's claustrophobic flat. It is small, dark and dingy; the silence punctured by the sound of the train passing by-a stark contrast to the wide verdant fields Dalisay had left.

The reviews it has received are numerous. A Denver publication wrote: 'Closer to Home' is a quiet film with a deep impact, showing the tragedy in everyday people living everyday lives.' A Chicago reviewer wrote: 'Director Nobile covers a good deal of ground, both cultural and emotional, with deftness and confidence.' A Hawaiian journal raves: 'This strong, effective social drama crosscuts between the cultures of the Philippines (richly observed) and the United States (as the empire downsizes) to give a recognizable if not always heartening portrait of the complexities of contemporaneous world relationships that evolve when strangers meet.'

Also worth noting is Nobile's ear for Pinoy cultural sensibility-evident in certain provincial scenes. His camera seems to find wonder in ricefields, the picturesque ridges of Tagaytay, the coconut huskers, the carabaos plowing. One of the most effective scenes, however, is the jeepney ride taking Dalisay to the airport-unspoken feelings of mirth and sadness hang in the air, while strains of Ryan Cayabyab's 'Paraiso' play in the background.

So why did Nobile beat us to the subject? Maybe we were too busy making films with naked women and lots of sex."    


Contrasting attitudes toward

the concept of 'home'



" 'Closer to Home' started out as a film that made the rounds of the festival circuit abroad, and is now showing at a number of local mainstream theaters. Why is the American production playing in the Philippines? Because it's about a Filipina mail-order bride who goes to the States to marry an older man, and to work so she can send money home for the heart operation of her younger sister. 

Filmmaker Joseph Nobile has hit upon a creative and rewarding juxtaposition of two cultures, two families and two interesting individuals. The Filipina, Dalisay (Madeline Ortaliz) loves her sister so much that she's willing to marry a stranger she doesn't care for in order to save her life.

On the other hand, her American fiance, Dean (John Michael Bolger) hasn't had much of a family life at all. He's been sailing all over the world for the past 20 years, didn't go home when his parents died, and can't get along with his only sister.

The clash of cultures is evident in scenes that show some American characters resenting Dalisay and her cousin Tess. Dean and old Uncle Ralph are presented as supportive and welcoming, but when Dalisay reveals her real reason for coming to the States and confesses that she doesn't love Dean, the spurned lover turns ugly himself and uses force to prevent Dalisay from leaving him.

The film's title says it all: the movie is about the characters' contrasting attitudes toward the concept of 'home'. Dalisay has gotten so much love from her parents, despite their poverty, that she can be selfless, think only of her younger sister, and uproot herself and go to a strange, inhospitable country to make money to pay for an operation that could save her sister's life.

For his part, Dean uprooted himself from his own family 20 years ago when he joined the Merchant Marines, but now he longs to have a family of his own, which is why he has gotten himself a mail-order bride. This decision shocks his few remaining relatives (except for kind Uncle Ralph) and widens the gap between them.

As the story progresses, Dalisay heaps her family's problems on Dean and he tries to help, but he isn't able to. In desperation, she turns to her cousin Tess, who says Dalisay can work at her boyfriend's bar, and the ineffectual Dean is effectively shut out of Dalisay's life.

The fear, of course, is that, in rejecting the loving but insufficient Dean, Dalisay could end up assimilating Tess' cynical attitude about life in the United States. Even as she's able to help her family, she could lose her essence as a person in her new and inhospitable 'home'.

We're grateful to the movie for these and other provocative points, which have a number of pertinent things to say to Filipino and American viewers alike. The movie shows telling contrasts between the laidback lifestyle of the Philippine countryside and the hyper, impersonal feel of life in the United States.

But it isn't simplistic in its approach. It doesn't say that Dalisay is the victim and Dean and his relatives are the villains of this piece. Indeed, in some ways, Dean ends up the fall guy because Dalisay has used him just to get to the States.

On the other hand, Dean's vicious temper tantrum toward the end shows that his 'love' for Dalisay is far from pure and allgiving. In fact, his 'ugly' behavior could mean that he shares more of his relatives' cruel ways than he thinks.

On point of performance, John Michael Bolger dominates the film with his complex characterization of Dean. Madeline Ortaliz is well-cast on point of dusky looks and modest ways, and she does have several affecting scenes. On the whole, however, her characterization is much less textured than Bolger's, so it's less interesting.

The best Filipino actors in the movie are Connie Chua as Dalisay's mother, and the actress who played the agent who got Dean's mail-order bride for him. Outstanding work is also turned in by American actors who played Uncle Ralph and Dean's sister.

Despite its plus points, 'Closer to Home' is occasionally tough to take. It doesn't really get a firm enough handle on the many, familial and cultural issues that it raises; its development is sometimes melodramatic; some of its shots are muggy; in some scenes, its sound is not all that clear, rendering a few lines of dialogue incomprehensible, and its pacing occasionally tends to meander.

On the whole, though, we're glad we saw this film because it gives us a new look at the Filipino-American relationship on personal, familial and cross-cultural levels.

Since America and Western culture play such a big role in our lives, whether we're aware of it or not, and whether we like it or not, viewing the movie can result in reflections that can help clarify that relationship for us. Patience is needed, however, to give the film time to get its story going, and its valuable points, and finally come into its own." 


Pinoys in the eyes of a foreign director        


By Ricardo F. Lo

"Meanwhile, a film called Closer to Home by independent American filmmaker Joseph Nobile (it's his 'debut' movie) is bound to make heads turn and touch a lot of Filipino hearts as soon as it's shown first on Sept. 26 (6:30 p.m.) and then on Sept. 30 (9:30 p.m.) both at the SM Megamall Preview Studio, as part of the Manila World Film Festival (World Cinema Centennial Celebration) from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1.

I saw a preview of Closer to Home one stormy afternoon at the Mowelfund Center and I was impressed by Nobile's ability to capture the sensibility of the Filipino in the tightly-edited and finely-acted drama about a Filipina (played by newcomer Madeline Ortaliz, a cross between Princess Punzalan and Cecile Castillo, who was discovered during an audition of more than 200 aspirants) whose desire to improve the lot of her farming family (Joonee Gamboa as her father and Connie Chua as her mother) forces her to a fixed marriage with an American (Hollywood actor John Michael Bolger) himself burdened with the task of putting back together his divided family.

Done in a span of four years (lack of logistics, you know), Closer to Home should be seen not only by Filipino filmmakers who must have become so accustomed to things and places 'local' that they take certain details for granted and therefore don't portray Filipino-ness as faithfully as it is done by, irony of ironies, this American who must have been a Filipino in his previous life.

You have to see Closer to Home (half of it filmed here and the other half in New York) to appreciate and love it, so there's no use spoiling the 'suspense' by giving you all the details here. Catch it while you can.  Last month, Closer to Home was shown at the Montreal World filmfest and after its Manila showing, it will go to the Chicago Film fest (Oct. 12 to 29), The Virginia Festival of American film (Oct. 26) and the Hawaii International Film Festival (Nov. 3 to 16)."  





A foreigner had to open our eyes


STUDIO WHISPERS 'How sad that a foreign director (Joseph Nobile) had to open our eyes to the beauty of our surroundings.'  ETHEL RAMOS

"I agree with fellow movie columnist George Vail Kabristante that Elibon Film Productions' Closer to Home is a film every Filipino director should take time to watch. It is not only well- crafted (although "tighter" editing could make the film more exciting), it will also make people realize there's so much beauty in our countryside. How sad that a foreign director (Joseph Nobile) should open our eyes to the beauty of our surroundings. Indeed, there is still so much, especially in our barrios, that the goverment, it's officials and private contracters have yet to explore.

Closer to Home is a quiet movie. Yet every scene is so beautifully, so convincingly and honestly presented one cannot help but be touched. The film reflects issues affecting Filipinas today. It shows how wrong Filipinas are in thinking America is the land of milk and honey. And that marrying an American is a dream come true.

Closer to Home could have been a major movie if big, bankable stars were assigned to play the lead roles. But Nobile, the director-producer of the film chose an unknown to portray Dalisay (Madeline Ortaliz) barrio lass and the eldest daughter of a poor family. Her desire to help her family and improve a younger sister's deteriorating health prompted her to agree to a pre-arranged marriage with an American (played by Hollywood actor John Michael Bolger).

In supporting roles are Joonee Gamboa, Lou Veloso, Lucy Quinto, Ray Ventura, Tony Mabesa, Vic Diaz  (from the Philippines), Edward Lane, Ralph Buckley, Jane Gabbert and Elizabeth Bracco (from New York). Closer to Home was shot in the Philippines and New York. It is the story of two people from two different countries with different aspirations, ideas and ideals. The woman wants to save the family, the other wants to start a family. The results are not the kind one expects.

Madeline does not look like a typical movie star. As far as looks are concerned, she cannot hold a candle to Aiko Melendez, Vina Morales, Carmina Villaroel or Donna Cruz. But her typical Filipina features (dark, petite, innocent-looking and simple) attracted her to Nobile, who immediately assigned her the lead role. "About 300 of us auditioned for the role," Madeline recalls. "I thought I had no chance of being chosen. Nang magsimula kaming mag-siyuting, saka lang sinabi ko kay Mr. Asset Bernade (the film's script supervisor and Ortaliz's neighbor in Novaliches) na totoo pala ang sabi niyang puwedeng ako ang kunin na pangunahing artista."

It  took three years to finish the movie, half of which was shot in New York. The other half was shot in the Philippines. Madeline and her mother (the former Belen Surigao) lived in an apartment in New York for six weeks. The former is presently taking up mass communication at New Era College. "Wala akong ideya if I'll have another assignment after this movie. Na okay lang sa akin since my dream is to become a broadcast journalist like Loren Legarda and Tina Monson Palma,"Madeline, 19 relates."  



The Great American Dream

From Brocka's 'Hellow, Soldier' and 'PX'

to Joseph Nobile's 'Closer to Home',

 the American dream remains the same!



"No local director has so far come up with a more heart-tugging and haunting tale of those Americans left behind than Lino Brocka's  'Hellow, Soldier' (that's right, 'Hellow...' dahil lasing ang bidang babae when it happened).

That was the second episode of Brocka's trilogy, Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (1974) under Mever Films, based on Sister Angela Barro's play about a lavandera (Anita Linda), a dipsomaniac, and her teenage love child's dream of going to her father's homeland--still to her the land of milk and honey.

Will the reality of home lose out to a dream of the far country equated to heaven by the daughter (Hilda Koronel)? Will poor, helpless Inay lose out her only jewel to a foolish American obsession?

Again, harping on an expanded theme of feeling misplaced, in search of a father who had chosen to forget, a gnawing dream whose fulfillment is merely based on illusion and hope, Brocka once more came up with an expansive film on similar theme, PX. It could be Brocka's favorite actress' (Hilda Koronel's) story.

Chito Rono and Ricky Lee collaborated in 1987 for an American producer (Asian American Films) and came up with Metro Manila Festival's best picture, Olongapo: The Great American Dream. Still the search of a lost father goes on but the movie focuses more on Olongapo and it's people and their American Dream.

As the Mowelfund people prepares for the World Cinema Centennial festival later this month (Sept. 23 to Oct. 1),  a mini-festival of sorts is going on in the Mowelfund compound--three foreign, and local films being shown each day, at afternoons and early evenings.

Last Tuesday (Sept. 5), we caught this engaging film by American filmmaker Joseph Nobile (his first) who studied at the New York University. Nobile's Closer to Home goes farther than the earlier film's. Here the hero or heroine doesn't seek the long lost father anymore. Here the heroine seeks to go to America where she thinks money grows on trees to help a helpless father impoverished by users and to save a beloved but ailing sister.

We pay tribute to Nobile who catches the pathos, the humor in the midst of poverty, the beauty in simple lives. As he follows the story of factory worker Dalisay (commendably portrayed by first timer Madeline Ortaliz, 19 of New Era U.) and how her father (Joonee Gamboa) moves heaven and earth to send her to America, we also take in a former Merchant Marine, dogged by his family to sell their house, hoping to make a match through a marriage bureau.

It seems the liaison was doomed even before the planned wedding so Dean (John Michael Bolger) has to accept the impossibility of things. Just as the little fish from the river finds the big ocean engulfing, so both try to pick up what they can from broken dreams.

Nobile's story is lucid; its cinematography, superb; the movie as a whole, well-acted and deftly-crafted. I especially like the fast-paced noisy beginning (the Pahiyas in Lucban) and the slow, eloquent pathetic, silent ending in contrast.

This New Yorker's tale of one Great American Dream and an American's Great Dream make you realize he too likes our country and people for this movie shows!

Try to catch Joseph Nobile's Closer to Home on its rerun at the Mowelfund this Tuesday (Sept 12). Or on Sept. 26 at the Manila World Film Festival at the SM mall theaters. This movie has been invited for exhibition at the Chicago Filmfest (Oct. 12-29), Virginia Festival of American Films at Charlottesville, Va. (Oct. 26) and the Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu (Nov. 3-16). Earlier, it was shown in the Montreal World Film Festival (August). It will be at the International Feature Film Market on Sept. 20."