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26 Years After She First Saw It, “Ikaw Pa Lang Ang Minahal” Still Brings Maricel Soriano To Tears

Maricel Soriano addressing an audience of fans and movie buffs. 

 

At the premiere of the restored and remastered Ikaw Pa Lang Ang Minahal last Thursday, as the end credits rolled and the lights came on, Maricel Soriano was seen wiping her tears. Was she overcome by emotion watching her younger self, at the peak of her powers, on the big screen? Was it because the film reminded her that of all the nominations she got for that 1992 Carlos Siguion-Reyna oeuvre, for which she gave what is probably the greatest performance of her life, only the Young Critics Circle gave her the Best Actress trophy?

“Alam mo napaiyak ako eh,” Soriano confirms. “Can you imagine na ito ‘yung ginawa ko 26 years ago? Parang kahapon lang shinoot.”

 

Soriano with, from left, scriptwriter Raquel Villavicencio, director Carlos Siguion-Reyna, and musical scorer Ryan Cayabyab.

 

But Ikaw Pa Lang Ang Minahal was, in fact, filmed two decades and six years ago. It was the second offering from Reyna Films, the film company which immediately established itself as one to reckon with after its maiden offering, the Richard Gomez-Dawn Zulueta romance drama, Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, became a box-office and critical success the previous year. While “Hihintayin…” was based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the Soriano vehicle was based on the film, The Heiress, for which the Hollywood star Olivia De Havilland won the second of her two Best Actress Oscars.

Unlike De Havilland, however, Soriano wasn’t as fortunate in the awards game.

“Alam mo, Mary, hindi ko pa rin maisip kung bakit hindi ka nanalo sa pelikulang ito,” the screenwriter and Siguion-Reyna wife, Bibeth Orteza, couldn’t help telling Soriano (who is called Mary or Maria in the biz) after last Wednesday’s screening.

Soriano dismissed the statement lightly: “Hayaan mo na.” The actress would rather marvel at the reception the film got from the evening’s crowd. “Sabi ko kay Carlitos, ‘Kita mo, direk, feeling ko bagets ako kasi tinitilian ako. Eh ang tinitilian na lang ngayon mga bata.”

 

 

Ikaw Pa Lang.. tells the story of a mousy heiress who discovers that the man who she thought loved her for who she is is actually a gold-digger. Soriano was 27 when she made the movie. She had friends working beside her: James Cooper did her makeup while Ernest Santiago provided her costumes. “There were a few adjustments at the start,” the NYU-schooled perfectionist Siguion-Reyna recalls of working with Soriano. “Maricel was coming from a big studio and Reyna Films was anything but. But she was very cooperative and responsive and so in time, we got along very well.”

That the film company was then a newbie in the business mattered little. The Siguion- Reyna name was behind “Ikaw Pa Lang”—it was the feisty matriarch Armida’s pet project—which assured the movie a sheen of prestige and grandiosity first seen in “Hihintayin.” While the Richard-Dawn vehicle was shot in Pagudpud, principal photography for Ikaw Pa Lang.. was held in the sprawling Escudero family estate in Tiaong, Quezon. The cinematographer Romy Vitug made sure that, like Reyna’s first offering, the followup was as beautifully photographed.

 

 

At the premiere of the restored version, warm applause greeted key scenes, one of which is Soriano’s favorite in the movie: that wordless moment where her character Adela, experiencing love and attention for the first time from a man, removes her glasses, randomly picks a pink rose from a vase, and settles by the window. She sits there quietly as Vitug captures the range of emotions—thrill, apprehension, the quiet joy of chancing upon love for the first time—register on Soriano’s barely madeup face. “First time kasi na naging masaya ni Adela,” remembers Soriano of the scene. “Masaya siya at naluha siya sa saya. Sa totoo lang, mahirap umiyak kapag masaya ka.”

The scene in the rain where Adela finally realizes she has been stood up by her boyfriend David (a dashing Richard Gomez)—and where Soriano delivers that oft-imitated line, “Mamahalin n’ya ako para sa inyong lahat na hindi nagmahal sa akin”—was also warmly received at the premiere. “Malaking set-up din ‘yung scene na ‘yun,” remembers Siguion-Reyna. “Bombero lang ang gamit namin nuon kasi wala kaming sprinklers.”

Soriano even remembers her director devising a path lined with apple boxes in the emotionally draining sequences where she had to interact with Eddie Gutierrez who played her stern, unloving father, and Gomez. “Ang tatangkad nilang dalawa, ‘di ba? Puro apple box ‘yung dinadaanan ko. Ang tatangkad nila at mukha akong kuting sa gitna!”

In 1992, Soriano’s performance as the jilted heredera who in the end gets her revenge was met with impassioned praise. It was described in superlatives by film critics, dyed-in-the-wool fans, and even by non-Maricelians. The raves ranged from “a staggering achievement” to “spectacular,” from “awesome to behold” to “astounding.”

So when Soriano won the only acting citation at the then newly-formed Young Critics Circle for Best Performance by an Actor, everyone thought she was bound to continue her winning streak for the rest of the awards season. But nothing prepared her admirers and even the actress herself from the heartbreak that would come. Soriano was nominated in the Best Actress category in all the award-giving bodies and attended each awards ceremony despite being heavy with child (Sebastien “Tien” Soriano). Like Adela jilted by David, the actress would leave the awards shows disappointed.

But all of that sounds like a lifetime ago. At the moment, after the restored Ikaw Pa Lang… makes its way around the alternative cinema circuit, the Diamond Star is set to do a teleserye for ABS-CBN, and this May she will appear in a special role in My 2 Mommies, Regal Films’ Mother’s Day presentation headlined by Solenn Heussaff and Paolo Ballesteros. The comedy is directed by her close friend and one-time leading man Eric Quizon. Between “Ikaw Pa Lang…” and today, La Soriano has done many more movies—including a second Reyna Films effort, “Inagaw Mo Ang Lahat Sa Akin” (1995)— and picked up her share of awards.

Her Best Actress losses for Ikaw Pa Lang…, in hindsight, turned out to be her performance’s gain: over the years her portrayal of Adela has become one of those rare acting efforts with a sort of legend attached to it. While the importance of recognition from awards-giving bodies have largely diminished, Soriano’s essaying of a spinster-in-training-turned-empowered-woman have only gained more strength and luster, remaining an indelible gem in Philippine cinema.

 

ABS-CBN Film Restoration's Leo Katigbak, Manet Dayrit, Cayabyab, Richard Reynoso, Guila Alvarez (who played the young Adela), makeup artist James Cooper and production designer Raymond Bajarias. 

 

Soriano with fans after the screening.

 

My 2 Mommies opens in theaters nationwide on May 9. After its Trinoma and Greenbelt screenings, Ikaw Pa Lang Ang Minahal will be shown from April 27 to May 1 at Black Maria Cinema, 779 San Rafael Street, SQ Film Laboratories Building, Plainview, Mandaluyong.