By Heinrich Domingo
Mila is a timeless piece of art that leaves valuable lessons not only to its audience but to filmmakers alike. Through treating the movie viewers with utmost respect, it shows that the masses can relate and understand social issues and realities. This film is too confident on its viewers that it offers layers of complex themes and discussions in a limited span of time.
In the midst of a national strike of public school teachers, Mila, a grade school teacher finds herself and her calling outside the confines of the classroom. In the process, she builds new friendship and relationships in the red-light district of Manila while balancing her role at the growing social movement where she is a part of. As Mila seeks balance between her two worlds, she discovers her limitations.
The makers of Mila were fearless for introducing something complex and partisan to the cinema-goers. Instead of choosing the easy route, Ricky Lee, the script writer, decided to intersect different but related issues of class, gender, substance abuse, mental health, corruption, and many more. Such choice is unique especially for a Star Cinema film. Choosing a particular topic and filling it up with dramatic subplots would be the easy way to achieve a blockbuster movie. Yet, thanks to this courageous attempt, we were able to see a story arc with layers of complex details that is held together by a strong woman.
Lee’s choice to include multiple social issues allowed the audience to look for characters and sub-stories that are familiar and relatable to them. When it came out in 2001, the film resonated in me as a maternal story. I saw Mila’s character (played by Maricel Soriano) resembling the poor conditions of my grade school teachers. Almost 20 years after, I connect most to the story through its narration of a rising political movement. I was awestruck as to how an underprivileged social sector was able to launch their own movement and in the end gained victory in their pursuit.
While I felt that the development of the story was too slow and that some subplots (Piolo Pascual‘s character for example) were off and problematic, the general feel of the film exudes brilliance both from the cast the the production team. Worth noting were the performances Kaye Abad (playing Winona), Cherry Pie Picache (playing Rona), and Jiro Manio (playing Peklat) among many others.
Mila is worth revisiting in the time when cinema is divided between the indie (the profound and the artistic) and the mainstream (the light and the popular). It is a proof that respecting the audience and trusting their own “taste” can bring a courageous film that transcends time and generation.
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