Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina” – 2014 Busan Film Review

For most people, purchasing an article of clothing amounts to nothing more than merely going into a brightly lit shop and perusing whatever stock is available until something approaching what the buyer wants appears in the right color and size. Though convenient, this practice can be an exercise in futility since he or she is ultimately at the mercy of whatever stock a store carries.

Yet as globalization turns the world into one big franchise, corporations have slowly taken full reign over our fashion choices.  In Milo Sogueco’s new feature “Mariquina” (2014) we are given a glimpse at cordwaining, a dying art that has been abandoned as people flock to big name department stores to buy the latest brand of sneakers or shoes. Romeo Guevarra, played by the talented actor Ricky Davao, is the antithesis of the tortured artist. In flashbacks we are witness to scenes of a family man, committed craftsman and ordinary everyman. Busy morning, noon and night in his shop, Romeo is fixated on honing his craft. When not designing his next new shoe he is putting the finishing touches to his next masterpiece.

Of course, though his professional life may seem all peaches and cream, his home life is a bubbling cauldron waiting to explode. Romeo’s wife Leonor (Che Ramos) is like a Philippine version of a Stepford wife. She takes care of the housework, helps with her husband’s business, looks after their daughter and runs errands. Leonor is the perfect wife except for the fact that she is treated more like an assistant and maid rather than an equal. Add to this a daughter who enters her teenage years angst-ridden, and filled with a lot of distrust and hate for her father.

All these ingredients eventually collide for a perfect storm resulting in Romeo losing his family. In the aftermath of his loss, Romeo does get a second chance at happiness. This time it is with his patron, the lovely Miss Tess (Bing Pimentel), a woman who’s independently wealthy and has the business acumen and eye for spotting talent. She is a very good ally for Romeo to have, especially as the Philippine economy suffered several devastating setbacks in the early 90’s as the country was going through some very important growing pains. Yet, even as he gets a second chance to have the family he wants, he loses everything again, prompting Romeo to make the ultimate decision to commit suicide.

Structured like a noir crime picture, we follow Romeo’s daughter Imelda (Mylene Dizon) as she goes through the minutiae of making all the preparations for her father’s wake and burial, while at the same time digging through her past be it through memory or by visiting familiar locales to try and find an answer as to why her father chose to kill himself.

Sogueco does not offer any easy answers to that question. In fact, “Mariquina” feels more like a eulogy for a bygone era when the town of Mariquina was a thriving shoe manufacturer, an ironic fact since most of the country was in the midst of economic and political turmoil at that time. And of course, being a film about Mariquina and shoes, Sogueco had to include the requisite Imelda Marcos cameo. For those not in the know, the former Philippine First Lady was infamous for having an insane shoe fetish that resulted in a collection of over 3,000 pairs of shoes, all of which are now housed in a museum located in Mariquina. Sogueco’s film is an allegory for the passing of one dictatorial authority for another. Though the Marcos regime no longer controls the government coffers, poverty and inequality are still major problems in the Philippines. “Mariquina” asks the viewer what price they are willing to pay for modern comforts and convenience, because as Sogueco’s movie shows, nothing in this world is free.

“Mariquina” made its international premiere at the 2014 Busan International Film Festival.