One thing about documentary films is that every story takes a really long time to develop and a filmmaker always has to guess what will come next. He or she does not need any special talent but just an ability to see right through the subject and capture not only its façade but its inner truths as well. That’s what Babyruth Villarama has achieved in Sunday Beauty Queen.
In one scene, you would see all these beautiful OFWs all dressed up and glamorous on a beauty pageant stage where they battle for recognition. But what are their real battles beyond the stage?
In the film, Hazel Perdido, a domestic helper in Hong Kong for eight years, watches her daughter’s graduation on her phone while fighting back tears. Cherrie Mae Bretana, who has been in Hong Kong for four years, spends more time taking care of her young charge Hayden than his parents ever do; and the boy’s obvious attachment to her makes it difficult for her to leave to another country with greener pastures. Mylyn, on the other hand, is taking care of an entertainment industry mogul who lives alone despite having several daughters and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Leo, a sassy lesbian, is dedicating his life in helping OFWs in Hong Kong by organizing beauty pageants that raise funds for them.
The subtle editing cuts back and forth between the subjects and clearly balances the ugly and beauty truths of living and working in a foreign land. Honestly, these truths are not new to us since there were some films about OFWs already made in the past such as Anak in 2000 and Caregiver in 2008. However, compared to those films, Sunday Beauty Queen presents this story without acting and formulated heavy dialogues. It’s not pretentious. It’s the raw perspective and that’s what makes it feel a genuine and special watch.
The film presents stories of ironies with the Department of Tourism sponsoring these beauty pageants for OFWs to welcome foreigners to the Philippines while its own citizens are leaving the country; and with Filipinas taking care of foreign children like parents when they can’t even take care of their own kids back home. Scorer Emerzon Texon’s gentle melodies perfectly brings the audience to the depths and heights of these realities. I must note that the ending credits song, Panahon ng Pagkakataon by Chlara Bear, is a perfect finale to sum up all the emotions you felt while watching the film from that one day that these OFWs could be themselves and be happy with friends to that bus ride home worrying if they will make it to the deadline set by their employers.
It would be a mistake though to expect Villarama’s documentary to have an entertainment value like the other MMFF 2016 entries have. What I actually mean here is, more than focusing on entertaining, it focused on touching people which I think is what the audience need more than just pure entertainment from films these days.
I know one documentary can’t hit all the important spots of a big social issue like this and Sunday Beauty Queen certainly did not; but Dexter dela Pena’s cinematography was enough to create a picture that evokes the feeling of familiarity and foreignness of working abroad. In the end, the perspective that working abroad is one of the saddest struggles facing many Filipinos today was not lessened or severed; the film just emphasized that each of them can make the best out of their conditions and thus it wrapped on a heartwarming note. It was so heartwarming that I think a lot of OFWs and their families felt a little bit closer even just for a while through these stories.