D: Vincent Sandoval
S: Jodi Sta. Maria, Mylene Dizon, Raquel Villavicencio, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio
There are no miracles in Aparisyon, no visits from the ethereal. There are only secrets, hushed scandals wrapped under layers of veils and habits. The convent, a safe haven for women devoted to a lifetime of prayer, becomes the centerpiece of the film. It transforms into a stifling purgatory for vulnerable nuns to wait out their fate in the midst of national turmoil and domestic dangers lurking within their premises. The women suffer in silence in the name of a deity that has seemingly abandoned them.
Vincent Sandoval rips a page off Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and waters it down to a single event, a rape bookended by the arrival of Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) at the cloister and the aftermath of her violent ordeal. Around the tortured sister are three other women who do their best to console her: Sister Ruth (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio), an overbearing mother figure trying to keep things under control; Sister Vera (Raquel Villavicencio), a nun constantly bothered by her grief; and Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon), her confidant with a guilty conscience.
Though set in the time of the Marcos regime, the film never treats viewers to sights of the outside world. Information is only coursed through private conversations with visitors, a contraband radio set, and newspapers that are secretly read and burned in the dead of night. These women are sheltered, forcefully blinded of their realities for the sake of their futile safety. The incident rattles them in their cage. It forces them to either take action or wash their bloodied hands of their sins.
Sandoval makes convenient use of the convent as a scaled-down version of the state. The parallelisms he draws are obvious, and the messages he brings across are in no way groundbreaking. His thesis on faith is weak and his stance on politics is even weaker. What Aparisyon excels at, though, is placing burden on its characters. It is able to build up their guilt and pains until none of them can carry their loads any further. The performances of all four women are exceptional, but the most noteworthy is that of Sta. Maria’s. Without making a sound, she reverberates suffering, and when she finally lets out a pained whimper, it’s impossible not to mourn with her.
It is Sta. Maria and her talented colleagues that give Aparisyon’s very thin narrative its much needed support. Jay Abello’s cinematography is superb. He is able to create nuisance and danger in the most peaceful of places. His night shots in the woods, a challenge in normal production standards, seem effortlessly put together. The editing is also commendable. Jerrold Tarog steers the film away from total dullness by smoothly interspersing mood shots with that of the ongoing story and flashbacks.
Aparisyon squanders all its potential by feeding its audience with things we are already all too familiar with. It recalls past events in history books and dated news clippings, and babbles on about faith without taking it anywhere significant. Still, Sandoval’s film is notable. Technically sound and brilliantly acted, it is one of the easier-to-watch Marcos-era films of late.