By Elizabeth Vossen
Although it may be considered a feat for Filipino cinema, “Emir” falls flat in the international film scene. “Emir” is an official International Feature Film selection of the 34th Cairo International Film Festival, which marks its Arab premier.
Although expectations weren’t particularly high at the outset, “Emir” — the latest film by Filipino director Chito Ron?o and writer Jerry Gracio — still managed to disappoint.
While he is a well-known director having won multiple awards, this is Ron?o’s first venture into the world of musicals. Ron?o has directed over 30 films and TV series, including the well-known supernatural-fantasy horror series “Immortal,” which is also written by Gracio. Despite past success, Ron?o and Gracio have missed the mark this time.
In the opening scene we’re introduced to a small village in the Ilocos region of the Philippines. By way of an over-the-top song and dance number, performed by the entire village, we learn about the woes of daily life for the villagers and the financial pitfalls that accompany them. The song goes on to advise that working abroad can bring great financial benefits.
The film centers around a young village woman, Amelia (Filipina actress Francheska Farr), who leaves her village to travel to the Middle East. There she joins the ranks of the catty staff in the home of a wealthy sheikh and his family. Amelia becomes the nanny of the Sheikh’s only son, Ahmed.
While initially the plot is reasonable, it soon becomes nonsensical and loses focus, meandering through a myriad of unconnected events. It cycles through a rivalry with other house staff members, a short-lived romance between Amelia and a suitor, a severe staff mistreatment issue, a war, murders, and being lost in the desert; “Emir” tries to have it all. The plot gives the impression that Gracio had a multitude of ideas coupled with the inability to sift through them, opting instead to include everything.
The scenery in some parts of the film is spectacular, and although by Filipina standards “Emir” has set itself apart from the standard low-budget films produced in the region, it does not stand up to the international competition. Farr gives a respectable performance, though her co-actors feebly attempt to outshine her by over-dramatizing every scene.
Additionally, the film is pockmarked with shoddy singing and dancing numbers, 22 of them in total to be precise. While some of the songs are decent, most are just noise. None of the cast members exhibit any mentionable dance talent, leaving the audience awaiting each poorly choreographed and executed dance scene with trepidation.
Initially cheesy with sparks of humorous moments here and there, “Emir” completely changed pace 90 minutes into the film — war was eventually declared, leaving the host family and the house staff susceptible to attacks by a militia. Actors attempted to convey the severity of the war and a family torn apart by its effects, but by then the audience had tired of the outlandish plot. Amelia and her ward Ahmed get lost, found, and separated again after attempting to find refuge in the desert.
The film runs a total of 138 minutes, and towards the end of the film it is barely tolerable. Perhaps overacted musicals with wildly wandering plotlines are more appreciated in the Philippines; in Cairo, however, the film doesn’t win any hearts.