Magdalena, the Unholy Saint
(Santa Santita)

             Since the majority of the residents of The Philippines are Roman Catholic, it is not surprising
     to find that filmmakers from that country would tackle issues that revolve around religion. While
     some niche movie makers are finding success in the United States (the most obvious being Mel
     Gibson’s decision to make
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST), the topic remains one of the
     last taboos by Hollywood standards.

             MAGDALENA is purported to be “inspired” by the legend of Mary Magdalene. According
     to accepted legend, the Magdalene was a woman of ill repute who repented her sins and ended up
     following Christ. This, of course, doesn’t dovetail exactly with the biblical character, who is
     mentioned by name in only a few passages, including as one of the women who went to Jesus’
     tomb and discovered it empty. As has been pointed out by several books, the Catholic Church
     bastardized the story of this woman, who more than likely was an educated follower of Christ’s.
     (There’s even fragments of a gospel attributed to her that were found yet which were not officially
     sanctioned by the Church.)

             Since director Laurice Guillen (
AMERICAN ADOBO) and screenwriters Johnny Delgado,
     Michiko Yamamoto, Jerry Gracio and Johnny Gracio subscribe to the view of the Magdalene as a
     woman of questionable repute who repented, they have fashioned their story as such.

             The plot revolves around Malen (an uneven Angelica Panganiban), the rebellious daughter of
     a pious mother (Hilda Koronel). Malen and her mother have been abandoned by her father and her
     mother makes ends meet by offering prayers for people in distress in return for donations. For her
     part, Malen sells scapulars and rosaries.

             One day, Malen meets Mike (Jericho Rosales), a shady but attractive young entrepreneur
     who drives tourists around as well as provides other services to lonely women as the need arises.
     The pair fall in love, yet complications ensue. For one thing, Mike has a sickly son from a previous
     relationship, and he’s not forthcoming about his “business.”

             Following her mother’s death, Malen takes up her place in the church and begins to pray,
     even though her heart isn’t really into it. But to her surprise, her intercessions appear to work and
     she soon has a large following. Once she has undergone this spiritual awakening, Malen sees her
     relationship with Mike change.

             If the film had concentrated solely on Malen and her journey, it might have served as a sort
     of inspirational drama. But the four screenwriters shoehorn in other stories and plots that are
     meant to somehow serve as a counterbalance to Malen’s tale, but, in fact, detract from it. Mostly,
     though, the screenplay doesn’t really develop the characters. There are illogical jumps – Malen goes
     from rebellion to piety after having a fever dream about wandering in the desert and showing signs
     of stigmata, Mike participates in an act of violence that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The
     screenplay also includes supporting characters who are not wholly integrated into the story,
     including a nun (Cherry Pie Picache) and a priest (screenwriter Johnny Delgado) being
     investigated for corruption.

             Because the story is a loose adaptation of the Magdalene tale, it does succeed in following
     the outlines: A young woman of questionable virtue and religious conviction undergoes a sea change
     and embraces her spirituality. One cannot fault the filmmakers if the tale itself is spurious. They
     obviously were well-intentioned. The overall result, however, is an interesting, if not completely
     satisfying experience.

                                             Rating:                     C+
                                             MPAA Rating:         None
                                             Running time:           113 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.