by Don Jaucian
D: Vincent Sandoval
S: Vincent Sandoval, Publio Briones III, Garry Lim, Dominic Milano Palomo, Stella Palomo Monteno, Richard Manabat, Eric Alvin Po
Mixing small-town politics and the woes of a homosexual, Vincent Sandoval’s Señorita spins a cynical viewpoint where hopelessness goes hand in hand with decay and an endless cycle of corruption. Sandoval’s Donna/Sofia is the poster girl for what was once a shining beacon for those who believe in brand new beginnings, how starting over can wash away sins. But it is never that easy. “We may be through with the past but the past is not through with us,” so says Celine in Before Sunset. And this rings true in Señorita.
Far from the maddening crowd of Manila, Sofia, formerly a high class transsexual sex worker, starts anew as Donna. She then helps Pepe Holganza, a doctor in Talisay, in his mayoralty bid to topple over the town’s regime. By grooming Doc Pepe as the messiah of Talisay (both the name and the setting a probable Rizal reference), with all his ideals of a morally conscious governance and the ever-present promise of eradicating corruption, along with taking care of a friend’s son, Sofia finds a chance to redeem herself, establishing a personality that erases any hint of her past.
But her past eventually keeps up with her in the form of Ricky Verano, an “exclusive client” who apparently has puppets all over the country, including the current mayor of Talisay. Verano runs an underground syndicate, tugging government strings to ensure his transactions are done without a hitch. It’s a David and Goliath scenario, something that Doc Pepe himself recognizes. But Sofia remains hopeful, transforming herself into someone like John Constantine, aiming to rid Talisay of her demons while earning some cookie points for herself. She does this while maintaining her ties with her exclusive client, keeping tabs on him and taking whatever expensive gifts (cash preferably) that he showers upon her, putting them to “good” use when the time comes.
Sandoval pits Sofia’s plight in contrast with the dark dealings of local politics and the bright, rainbow-colored perspective of a homosexual. She is relentless, hell-bent on seeing Doc Pepe ahead at the finish line, and she does this with finesse, silently plotting her own infernal devices. With all this scheming and furious planning, she eventually falls down the same rabbit hole, resorting to the sleazy tricks that her own opponents employ.
Sandoval presents Sofia as a modern-day Maria Clara, all pretty but has a will of her own. But Sandoval’s charms bogs down when the film mostly needed it. It’s perhaps the fear of overacting that slid down to stale underacting. At the film’s most crucial moments, Sofia’s face registers numbness not necessarily as an end product of her seemingly fruitless fight.
Despite the thinness of the acting (with the exception of the always excellent Publio Briones III), Señorita makes for a strangely watchable portrait of a woman dwarfed by the colossal task of ushering in a new start for the jaded and the exhausted. It slowly peels off moralistic watchwords, employing a more aggressive scheme to unravel Sofia’s inner Machiavelli. Its slow reveal exposes Sofia growing horns, dissolving into a mess of her own devices. She becomes an important reminder of how desire can always slide down to despair, how helplessness can be a powerful drug to push one at the brink of self-destruction.