Dec 27, 2016

[Movies] Sunday Beauty Queen (MMFF 2016)

This year's Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was a somewhat controversial one as we got a bunch of independent movie projects as part of the top 8 movie line-up instead of the latest editions of long-running franchises like Mano Po or Enteng Kabisote or what have you. I don't know if this is a change that will continue on in future editions of the festival so for this year we've made a serious effort to go see as many of the films a we can.

Sunday Beauty Queen is the lone documentary that made it to the final 8. It's probably not "fair" to have a documentary compete against other as you'd think the judging criteria would be quite different. But despite that, I'm still super glad that the movie got to screen during the festival, even thought it didn't quite get screenings in every single theater around the country.

And this was not at all the sort of documentary that I expected given its focus on Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. The end result is a brilliant piece that doesn't go out of its way to create a separate story on top of  the documentary footage.

This movie felt most at risk of being pulled out of cinemas so we made sure to watch this movie first.

Synopsis: Sunday Beauty Queen is a Filipino documentary directed by Baby Ruth Villarama. The movie made its debut at the 2016 Busan International Film Festival and was an official entry at the Metro Manila Film Festival this year.

The documentary starts by establishing the situation of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong. Most Filipinos working as domestic helpers often have to work practically all day with only Sunday as their day off. And on that one day of rest, many of these Filipinos participate in beauty pageants organized by Leo Selomenio, a lesbian who has been working in Hong Kong for over 20 years.

The documentary feature follows the individual stories of several of these workers including their situation in Hong Kong and why they invest so much time and effort into competing as beauty queens. We also learn a lot about their daily struggles and the hardships of working away from your family.

What I Loved: The perspective of the documentary is one that really feels like an observer instead of one taking and active part in telling a particular slant to the story. We watch these girls as they work day in and day out and we see their many preparations to compete in the Sunday pageants. The honest of the lense and the matter of fact nature things are presented including deaths and girls losing their jobs leaves it to the viewer to decide for themselves how to interpret things.

The movie does not overly focus on the girls missing home (that's a given established early on) nor does the movie even include any footage in the Philippines. Instead we get to see how strong these women are to work so far away from home and the joy they find in little escapes like the pageants. The women are brilliant and it just goes to show that the best stories are the real ones.

What Could Have Been Better: The footage can be pretty rough at times and there's a lot of jumping around as we go from character to character. Production value for this feature isn't the best, but I suppose in that regard you can really see this is a labor of love. These are minor quibbles but on the whole it's still interesting to watch.

TL;DR: Sunday Beauty Queen is a celebration of the Filipino spirit for OFWs around the world but it delivers this message in an authentic and not necessarily heavy-handed or overly dramatic manner. It's an escape for the audience as much as its an escape for the girls in the pageants and yet the whole thing is frightfully real given all that happens over the course of the documentary. Thus the movie gets a endearing 5 beauty queen outfits out of a possible 5.


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