Friday, January 8, 2016

Unveiling a Hero: Nick Joaquin

8:15 PM

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A good story and vivid imagination is all it takes to tell the tale of a country and a literary hero.


Philippine cinema has definitely been taking things up a notch in the past few years. With movies like On the Job, Kid Kulafu, and Heneral Luna, the film industry seems to be on a rollercoaster that only goes up.

One of the films to join their ranks is director Sari Dalena’s Dahling Nick, a three-hour biopic of the late National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin. The film is an experimental combination of snippets of Joaquin’s literary works and his life as a journalist, making for a docudrama never before seen in Philippine cinema.

The air of mystery lingers in each scene, seen when a man, surrounded by books and papers, sits at the embankment of Intramuros; when jazz plays in the opening scene where Nick (played by Raymond Bagatsing), drunkenly walks through a tunnel and sees a naked woman and a crab.

In just three hours, Dalena shows us collage of Joaquin’s works and hardships, such as retellings of “Mayday Eve” and the “Legend of the Virgin’s Jewel,” and his acceptance of the National Artist award during the Martial Law era to free his friend, Pete Lacaba.

The Thing got to talk to director Sari Dalena herself, along with co-writer, editor, and producer, Keith Sicat about the film’s namesake, the Joaquinesque language, and the way life imitates art.



The name Nick Joaquin has been around in the literary scene for forever; how and why did you decide that this was the right time to bring him and his stories to life on film?

SARI (S): Unlike biopics on our heroes, sad to say, there has not been any in-depth documentary made about Nick Joaquin, among many other important Filipino artists – and we wonder why there is a lack of interest and appreciation in our culture and heritage. We still have a few living National Artists and National Treasures among us in their 90s, I have yet to see any documentary about them. I wanted to focus on the man himself, Nick Joaquin as Quijano de Manila and the many facets of his life. It’s time to bring his genius to a new generation of Filipinos.

KEITH (K): Sari’s been dreaming of scenes from this film since the late 90’s, so it was more about the universe deciding that this was the right time for it to be made! There seems to be a bit of a zeitgeist with Joaquin now, with Avellana’s “Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” being restored and its Tagalog musical version “Ang Larawan” having been in production this year – and of course his centenary is in 2017. The stars were aligning.


Different generations have gotten to know Nick Joaquin in their own time and pace – do you think that the idea of who he is and what he represents has changed with time? How so?

S: In [the] Dahling Nick documentary, writers, colleagues, family and close friends from different times and chapters in Nick Joaquin’s life – pieced together an intimate portrait of this brilliant writer as they knew him.  While many young people from this generation only know him as the “writer who loves to drink beer”, I was shocked to see his fans come in droves during the limited screenings. It was comforting to see his avid readers, from literature students, to poets, theater people, filmmakers and historians flock in the theater to celebrate his works and his life.


Dahling Nick is described as a love letter to Joaquin – what about him did you want your audience to know and love in turn?

S: There’s so much to love about Nick Joaquin/Quijano de Manila. His prose and poems, his Joaquinesque language, his spiritual imagination and above all, his magic realism – will inspire anyone who loves Philippine history and culture.

K: There’s everything to love with this man. Here’s a guy who never finished high school and would go on to become one of the most esteemed men of letters in the country – so respected that even a dictatorial regime knew his power. Here’s a man who was completely comfortable in his own skin, so much so that even the gender issues people want to ascribe to him weren’t issues at all to him or his dear friends. He was what he was, and that’s beautiful and powerful.


There's a sense of otherworldliness and magic in most of Joaquin's works (especially in “The Legend of the Virgin's Jewels”), and it really carried itself into the film. Was it difficult to balance that with the reality that he lived in? How did you try to work towards that?

S: Nick Joaquin was a devoted Catholic, a Marian devotee, yet his works displayed his deep fascination and curiosity to the spectacle of pagan rituals, the Other world outside the Spanish convent, as we can see in the character of Brother Fernando. Nick Joaquin’s soul must’ve been torn to pieces, as Brother Fernando was seduced to the sight of the bowl of milk, the haunting tune, the flower offering, the vaginal Balete tree and ultimately, the magical phallic serpent that appeared in the moonlight and drank milk from the bowl. I was sucked into Joaquin’s Baroque world, in the same way when I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the end, Brother Fernando slayed the serpent and offered the jewel to the Virgin, as Nick Joaquin would later on offer his National Artist medallion to the Virgin of Intramuros. Life does imitate art.


If there is one thing from Dahling Nick that you want your audience to carry with them into their own lives as they walk out of that cinema, what would it be?

S: When you enter Nick Joaquin’s enigmatic world of prose and poems, it is my hope, that when you step out of Dahling Nick, you will be drunk on his artistry.

K: Filipino heroes and models of the highest level exist. You don’t have to be a war hero or be rich and powerful to make your mark. A humble person with principle can go a long way. It’s clear with his political gesture in accepting the National Artist Award in order to get a young writer set free from a morally bankrupt regime that he held fast to those principles. That is an example we should all emulate. Never settle for less than stellar.

Introduction by Zarah
Interview by Andrea and PaCho
Art by Czae
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Zarah is an eighteen-year-old Advertising Management major who likes to compute numbers and write stories. You can find her at cafes reading a book or watching a movie/anime. Like Margo from Paper Towns, she adores mysteries so much that she is slowly becoming one. And when all is finally right in her world, she would like to become a successful scriptwriter.  

PaCho is the nickname of a full-time fangirl who has the extraordinary ability of being able to cry at any given opportunity. Sometimes instead of crying, she complains about the government, goes on some trips, takes some okay photos, and writes stuff.



Andrea is a 19-year-old communication junior. Part meme supreme, part pretentious literary hoe, she's always cooking up something good.

in another universe, Czae /zai/ probably resides in a magical treehouse filled with books and peculiar art pieces while getting love and attention from her cat Sansa, 24/7. In this universe, however, she is a veterinarian. Aside from running away from #adultlyf, she keeps herself busy creating collages, staring at her cactus collection and annoying her cat.

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