By ISABELL ANDREA M. PINE
PEOPLE ARE more than what meets the eye and sometimes, it takes a collection of different lenses to truly see someone. In the case of renowned author Nick Joaquin, it is through the memories of others that the audience is given the chance to recognize the man behind the works. To those who knew him, Joaquin is an avid fan of Don Quixote, loves San Miguel beer, and has the habit of waving his snot-covered handkerchief in a proclamation of surrender in an argument.
Directed by Sari Dalena and produced by Keith Sicat, Dahling Nick is a documentary-drama screened in Cinema One Originals Film Festival 2015. It explores the life and works of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin through a series of interviews with the prominent figures in his life, as well as cinematic portrayals of his past and of his best works.
In the film, Joaquin’s character is explored through the analysis and recollections of fellow National Artist Bienvinido Lumbera, his niece Charo Joaquin Villegas, his closest friend Elena Roco, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines Jose Ma. Sison, and many others.
Dalena presents Joaquin’s works as a narration of the author’s deepest desires, beliefs, and hidden passions. The Innocence of Solomon opens the discussion of Joaquin’s homosexuality, while The Legend of the Virgin Jewel reveals Joaquin’s religiosity and devotion to Mother Mary. His other literary pieces also reflect an empowered view of Filipino culture — from how society should perceive women, down to the budding colonial mindset enforced by generations of colonization.
Dalena and Sicat have a knack for adding magical realism to the documentary. This mystique is especially shown in later scenes such as the appearance of the Virgin Mary in his study room and of the crab — a reference to Joaquin’s novel Cave and Shadows, that crawls on his table.
Likewise, the use of rich background music and different film gradients in scenes portraying Joaquin’s literary works amplify the feel of each scene. In the May Day Eve segment, the piano piece and saturated background let viewers feel the extravagance of the ilustrados during that time period.
Joaquin’s transition to journalism as Quijano de Manila is also touched upon. As Quijano, he brought about the growth of literary journalism in the Philippines as his reportages combined lyricism with the substance of well-researched facts. His involvement with the labor union and his openness with materials that are critical of Marcos’s regime is shown through the interviews with Pete Lacaba and Danny Dalena: his workmates back in the Philippine Free Press.
As a journalist, Quijano was described by Marra PI Lanot as hardworking in his job, resourceful in getting his sources and argumentative in his beliefs, which highlighted his political views and struggles during the pre-martial law period.
Quijano’s distaste with Marcos’s administration is further expanded on through a series of flashbacks. This was emphasized on how he refused the National Artists award unless it is for the release of his fellow journalist, Pete Lacaba.
Unfortunately, the documentary is not without faults. Dalena’s effort to condense Joaquin’s life in just three hours led to a lack of in-depth discussion on some details raised by the commentators. There is no deeper analysis in the literary works presented, and a lack of background on Joaquin’s relationships with other prominent literary figures such as Jose Garcia Villa.
There were also some inconsistencies in the audio present of the film. An example of this was the lack of audio in Jose Dalisay’s commentary, which could have only been understood because of the subtitles. Some dialogues were also hard to hear due to the louder volume of the background music.
Unfortunately, Raymond Bagatsing’s noteworthy acting that completely encapsulated the mannerisms and character of Nick Joaquin also emphasized the flat performance of other actors who have left more to be desired.
Overall, Dahling Nick revealed a different side of Nick Joaquin through the memories of those who knew him. Half talked of his brilliance in literary writing while the other shared his impact in the field of journalism, agreeing that he left a big impression on them.
Joaquin’s passion comes to light through his interactions with the people that are close to him; and it is heard through the tone of fondness that these people adopt when they speak of their experiences with him.
To the very last frame, Joaquin is immortalized through the beer bottles in the set along with the constant reference to his use of the pet-name dahling. In the end, Joaquin imparts to the dahlings of his life the magic of playing the devil’s advocate, challenging them to do the same. F