Negros is a diabetic’s nightmare.
Whoever invented the piaya, the pinasugbo and the Napoleones must have been trying to exact revenge against diabetic bully, hoping that in a roundabout way, the bully could be done in by hyperglycemic shock.
And it’s not just the desserts that have earned their reps for being killers. There’s our cansi and the chicken inasal. Both not complete without a generous of layer of grease.
Negrenses, after all, like their food two ways: sweet or greasy. Or both.
Either be a diabetic, or have high blood pressure. Or both.
The Negrenses’ love for food is the stuff of legends.
It ain’t exactly surprising then, that somebody had thought of making a movie about food IN Negros. And who can do it better than somebody who has a feel of the province, a true-blue, proud as heck Negrense, Jay Abello?
Yup, he’s the same guy who brought us Ligaw Liham and who is now slowly but surely creating buzz because of his new film, Namets!, a finalist to this year’s Cinemalaya Festival. Namets! (yes, that’s with an exclamation point) is written by fellow Negrense Vince Groyon, he of The Sky over Dimas Fame, himself an astute observer of the quirks of the elite in Negros.
Namets!, for the uninitiated, stars Christian Vasquez as Jacko and Angel Jacob as Cassie, two not-exactly-star-crossed lovers. Just a couple of chefs who share the same passion for cooking. Somewhere between the lumpia ubod and the cansi is love waiting to happen.
Abello, in an interview with IT Magazine, said the title Namets! was coined by Groyon himself.
“[E]veryone loved it,” he recalls, seeing that the word has a rather naughty ring to it. It works marketing-wise, Abello says, and it helped that it roused the curiosity of non-Hiligaynon speakers.
People who have seen the movie swore the food was the big star in the movie. Worth watching, they said, was the chemistry of its two lead stars. It’s a love story. With food. And Abello has no pretensions about his intentions when he shot the film. No Gallaga-ish dissection of the elite in Negros society. No Freudian analysis of the peasant struggle.
It’s a straightforward love story. Period.
In fact, Abello pretty much sums it up: “A no angst, nothing to say movie — a popcorn-date-movie.”
The director points out that, after Ligaw Liham, people had been asking him why he hadn’t done a movie in the Hiligaynon language. The movie was his sort of answer to those pesky questions.
“I wanted my second movie to be in our dialect… And I wanted to do something commercial,” he said. Fusing food into the plotline seems like “a no-brainer”, given the way Negros takes pride in its food.
And it definitely helped that he worked with Negrenses, especially Vasquez and the MAN himself, Peque Gallaga.
Abello describes Vasquez as “wonderful and underrated” while he has nothing but praises for Gallaga, calling the director a “master”.
“(Christian) is very hard-working, very disciplined, very passionate about what he does, and very open to direction. Oh, and he really does his homework, he really works on his role. It was so easy to work with him.
He gave so much to Namets that I can’t even take any credit for his work on Namets,” he said. As for Gallaga, whom he fondly calls Direk Peque, Abello describes a “tedious” preparation the likes of Tom Hanks usually puts in his roles (remember the gauntness in Philadelphia? The ridiculous mullet in the Da Vinci Code?).
Gallaga, he says, “…studied his role to the point that it was his idea to cut his hair, and shave his mustache — and give a totally new look to his role. And that takes a lot of commitment.”
What Abello appreciates most was the very non-intrusive way that the legendary director carries himself on the set.
Gallaga had been “very collaborative and very respectful. He doesn’t go to the set as a director or teacher, he really respects the people in charge and he’s there as an actor and collaborator. It’s amazing.”
No J.Lo ego there. No prima donnas on the set. Which is a good thing, Abello says, because it made his work a whole lot easier.
Meanwhile, Abello is keeping himself busy directing a show for TV5.
“That is as mainstream as I can get,” he said. He keeps an open mind about going mainstream, although as he says, “there are no offers yet.”
Still, Abello maintains he has a soft spot for indie filmmaking. There is, after all, something liberating about not having to kowtow to studio’s wishes about how an effing movie has to end. How many mainstream films have been emasculated just so it would fit the commercial formula?
The director rightly observes that in the indie circuit, stories that are deemed too “uncommercial” by big studios are tackled by indie filmmakers.
“I think that the fact that indie films are not being dictated so much by formula or the pressure to earn back the producers investment, makes for a purer environment on the set of making a feature film where all the artists are plainly drawn by the art. And so– the initiative in this arena is far richer and deeper, thus giving the movie a lot of love so-to-speak, which in some weird way gets translated on screen,” he says.
Aye, aye Direk!
Never mind the mainstream project (for now, at least).
Bring out the popcorn. Namets! is rolling by.