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A Portrait of the Filipino as a Showbiz Extra
by Don Jaucian

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (2011)
D: Tonette Jadaone
S: Lilia Cuntapay, Geraldine Villamil

Filipinos have a madcap love affair with fame. The celebrity culture fascinates us so immensely that it’s almost hardwired into our DNAs. Showbiz rags, talk shows, and gossip sustain our hunger for more intimate details about our favorite actors and actresses. A chunk of primetime news is even devoted to “showbiz chika.” The advent of digital technology has intensified this culture with fans rabidly following actors on Twitter and Facebook, ready to devour the most minute piece of information to add to their devotional scrapbook.

But equating fame with the legitimacy of an actress is utter bullshit. It is a concept that slingshots through some of the most underrated actresses of all time, especially in the local film industry. The names of Che Ramos, Marife Necesito, and Raquel Villavicencio may not be as astronomical compared to Sharon Cuneta’s or Vilma Santos’s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their acting chops are less stellar. Who has the right to be called an “actress” anyway? Is it only for those who have headlined movie posters? Is it only for those who have made it to the tabloids because of their lurid love affairs and not because of actual talent? Or is it also for those who have worked to the bone, waking up for an early morning call time, waiting at a 12-hour shoot for a role that only gets you a split-second of screen time?

Such is the struggle for a bit player like Lilia Cuntapay. Her career of more than thirty years comprises small roles in films mostly as ghouls, witches, or aswangs (she played the title role in the classic 1993 Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes film, where she transforms as Alma Moreno to lure her prey). Even simply filling out a field in a medical information sheet asking for her occupation sends her into an existential crisis. Should she call herself an “actress” or relegate herself to a mere “bit player,” existing as a footnote to our cinematic history?

Critically acclaimed filmmaker Antoinette Jadaone captures this strange fictional moment in ‘nay Lilia’s life in the mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay, where she aptly captures the blurring of the lines between celebrity stature and the harshness of life beyond the screen. Finally getting a long-overdue acting nomination, for taking on a role of a mamasan, she practically upends her brain for the perfect thank you speech, creating a brief history of her life as a showbiz “extra” and her stature as the core of the local film industry.

Mincing facts from Lilia’s life (the percentage of which is undisclosed) and an alternate universe, Jadaone masterfully weaves a tale that catapults Lilia further into the showbiz universe with her already iconic stature. Sure, most people recognize her face, but what Jadaone does is to forge Lilia’s name on a gold plate, with glitters and resounding applause at that. Jadaone assembles a scrapbook of Lilia’s career, interviewing directors, actors, and random people on the street, asking whether they know who this Lilia Cuntapay is. 

What endears Six Degrees to viewers is its ability to approximate the Filipino dream into ‘nay Lilia’s experience, that even the smidgen of a chance of accepting an award is enough of a cue to reassess our choices and relive the warm, happy memories while surrounding ourselves with the people we love. Jadaone shows that there’s a Lilia in all of us: a mother wanting for affection, a hard worker striving for recognition or just someone waiting for their rocket to come. In the end, it’s just a matter of trusting your dreams and trusting your story, whether it’s horror or otherwise. 

Lilia went on to win Best Actress (tied with Maricar Reyes) at the CinemaOne Originals 2011 festival. Watch Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay tomorrow at UP Cine Adarna, December 3, 7:30PM. Click here for more details. 

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