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Review | ‘Lola Igna,’ a fascinating character study

Roy focuses on an entirely different area of loneliness — a seemingly eternal existence

Stephanie Mayo

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Ferro rises from her character’s flimsy personality because of her powerful performance. She is an incredible delight to watch.

Cinemalaya 2019 Best Director Eduardo Roy Jr. won big in this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) when his entry Lola Igna took home the prizes for Best Picture, Screenplay and Best Actress for Angie Ferro.

Roy proves to be a prolific and versatile filmmaker — after his Cinemalaya entry, the pornographic sex thriller F@#*bois, here he delivers a gentle examination on the existential crisis of a super old grandmother, Lola Igna (Ferro).

How does it feel to outlive all your children and even your grandchildren? Roy focuses on an entirely different area of loneliness — a seemingly eternal existence. Lola Igna, a 118-year-old grandmother living alone in a remote province surrounded by rice fields and pesky birds, in a fly-infested hut, has only one desire: to die. To finally leave this dull, wretched existence, where her daily routine is composed of peeing in a chamber pot, scaring the birds with tin cans and taking a swig of coconut wine.

The film captures a chapter in Lola Igna’s life when the town mayor (Soliman Cruz) signs her up to compete for the title of oldest grandmother in the world. The town is ecstatic, including her living relatives, like granddaughter Nida (Isabel Lopez). Because Lola Igna is currently the oldest grandmother in the Philippines, tourists flock to her small hut for a selfie. She’s become an attraction and, hilariously, a lucrative source of income for the townsfolk.

A different kind of tourist arrives one day, Tim (Yves Flores), who introduces himself as Lola Igna’s great-grandson. His presence becomes a welcome blip in Lola Igna’s daily routine, and the audience soon connects with Tim as he observes his lola and her everyday life.

The 82-year-old Ferro who plays the titular Lola Igna is the driving force of the film. A theater actress since 1969, and also a theater director, Ferro’s performance is unforgettable. She carries with her the weight of a cursed existence, that in her every waking moment, you experience through her eyes how life is cruel and unfair in many bizarre ways.

Ferro rises from her character’s flimsy personality because of her powerful performance. She is an incredible delight to watch. Her facial expression, her sarcasm, her excitable vibe on the prospect of dying, she is immediately likeable.

The almost-two hour film can sometimes be dull, as it lacks poetry in the proceedings. Fake CGI birds also sometimes ruin the experience, plus a blinking corpse. Roy and co-writer Margarette Labrador, though, renders the story with tenderness, that you feel both the fragility and the unimaginable strength of Lola Igna, her despair and her vulnerability, and keeps you guessing how her story will end. And when it does, it’s both brutal and genius. Lola Igna’s life is a parody. A mockery.

Tim’s character is just to liven things up a bit, merely serving as the audience’s conduit in getting to witness Lola Igna up close and personal. It’s disappointing, though, that we don’t get to experience a deeper bond between Tim and his lola-lola. This is compensated, however, by other gems in the film, such as the short but charming cameo of Armand Reyes as the elderly bachelor Gusting, who gives one of the best scenes in the film.

In the opening scene, Lola Igna wakes up and then begins to speak to an imaginary figure, who turns out to be Carias (Rener Concepcion), her dead husband. Clearly, this is an everyday occurrence, with Lola Igna pretending that Carias still exists, even serving him breakfast. But, oddly, this scene is soon forgotten. The film progresses without Lola Igna speaking again to thin air. Like it’s just a one-day thing.

Also, she screams of loneliness, yet has an aversion to friendly tourists. While one can understand that superficial attention does not cure loneliness, these tourists are still people and can assuage any sense of isolation.

Overall, Lola Igna is a memorable film; a fascinating character study on a different kind of elderly depression, with a philosophical bent. It may not cut deep into your soul, but it transports you to the alien world of a human being who has lived too long. It shifts one’s perspective about death and aging, and makes you celebrate such wonderful talents like Ferro.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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