Vilma Santos

The longest-reigning Queen of Philippine Cinema, also widely known as the Star for All Seasons and the QueenStar, Vilma Santos celebrates her golden anniversary in showbiz. She has starred in more than 200 films and has given the public some of the most memorable performances in Philippine motion picture history. An icon of film and popular culture, her magnetic screen presence has captured the hearts and minds of generations of Filipinos. Her enduring charisma and popularity have made her filmdom's most durable female superstar. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

“Sister Stella L.,” Vilma At Her Finest

One of the most important Filipino films, Sister Stella L (1984), is about a nun's political awakening amid a labor uprising. Directed by master auteur Mike De Leon, it showcases Vilma’s restrained, unadorned acting. The final scene where Stella gives a speech, without background music to heighten the emotive atmosphere, and delivers the unforgettable line “Katarungan para kay Ka Dencio!” (“Justice to Ka Dencio!”) is purely stirring. Vilma was conferred the Best Actress plum by the Manunuri Ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the country's most respected critics group. The film was selected for competition at the 1985 Venice Film Festival.

Nearly three decades after, critics are of the consensus that Sister Stella L. is by far Vilma's finest cinematic performance.Vilma's Sister Stella L. character is liberating and inspiring, hailed by feminists and academics as an icon of women empowerment. - RRIE


“De Leon’s film was to have had special screenings, on the unanimous request of the Cannes’ board of critics. Sister Stella L., however, suffered from the rush of subtitling work that descended upon Cannes’ select group of translators and De Leon opted not to show the film without subtitles. He nevertheless had the distinct honor of holding a retrospective under the sponsorship of the French Cinematheque right after the festival. The film eventually competed at the Venice Film Festival. Under its original title Sangandaan (Crossroads), Sister Stella L. was invited to the Venice Film Festival in 1984, the second Filipino film (after Genghis Khan in 1951) to be honored with such recognition.” - Agustin L. Sotto and Pet Cleto, Philippine Panorama, Dec 02 1984 


“Playing the title role, Vilma tries a part that is totally different from her past roles and proves that she has indeed become a highly skilled professional. Vilma’s transformation from an innocent bystander to that of an active participant who is audacious enough to be in the thick of battle is truly quite awesome to behold. We could almost see and feel the internal changes in her. In a sense, the role is somewhat tailor made for her because her beauty is appropriate to the part of Stella L., but she also succeeds in transcending her established personality, delivering her lines and gestures with vigorous conviction and playing it to perfection that one can safely predict that she will again be running in the best actress derby come next year.”
- Bautista, Mario E.

“For a heart-warming film, the entire cast deserves congratulations, particularly Vilma Santos who reveals another aspect of her multi-faceted talent. From her usual soft and sweet romantic roles, she can be transformed into a strong and militant woman without losing any of her charm and beauty.”
- Guillermo, Alice G., Who Magazine, May 30 1984

"Philippine movie queen, Vilma Santos, takes the role of a nun who becomes involved in an on-going labor strike...It's hard to imagine a nun with heavy make-up as Santos, but her excellent acting more than makes up for it...."
- Purarek. “Flawed but still masterful filmmaking,”, September 3, 200

"...Ayon sa pagkakaganap, isinabalikat ng sensitibong paglikha ni Vilma Santos ang buong bigat ng pasaning nakapaloob sa pelikula nang hindi nagpapahiwatig ng kabagutan...."
- Devera, JoJo . “Ang Pakikibaka ni Sister Stella L.,”

"Vilma Santos shines as the unsure but strong-willed nun in the beginning to a militant defender of the people by the end.  It is a similar role she plays 18 years later in “Dekada '70."
-, August 14, 2009


Forum on Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L.

“Cine Adarna, UP Diliman, Quezon City (March 20, 2009) – Award-winning actress Vilma Santos and showbiz colleagues shared precious stories at a forum dealing with Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L. The reunion was part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the film.

“The seven forum panelists were Vilma, actress Laurice Guillen, scriptwriter Pete Lacaba, production designer Cesar Hernando, producer Mother Lily Monteverde, film critic Mario Hernando, and film academician Roland Tolentino….”(CLICK HERE TO GO TO SOURCE)
-, September 20, 2012

“Last Friday, March 20, a group of MA students and a fan club of Vilma Santos staged a tribute for her landmark film Sister Stella L. First screened in 1984, this Regal Entertainment-produced film tells the story of a nun who became an activist when she became involved in the labor disputes of factory workers.”(CLICK HERE TO GO TO SOURCE)
- Dimaculangan, Jocelyn, PEP, March 23, 2009

25th Year Commemoration Of ‘Sister Stella L’

“… As a modest tribute to Sister Stella L., the UP Film Institute is holding a special anniversary screening of the film on March 20, 2009 at the Cine Adarna at 5:00pm. Dubbed “Sister Stella L. @ 25: Tuloy ang Pakikibaka,” the activity is organized by the Film 280 class in cooperation with the Vilma Santos Solid International, Inc. (VSSI). Film scholars, members of entertainment press and cast and crew of the film will serve as panelists in the forum to be held before the screening….”(CLICK HERE TO GO TO SOURCE)
-, March 17, 2009

Ituloy ang pakikibaka ni Sister Stella L

It’s been 25 years – but we’re still fighting the same issues, “Vilma Santos says. She has long set asides Sister Stella’s habit and donned a Governor’s classy suit in real life, but even here in Batangas City Hall’s imposing conference room. Ate Vi is all passion for the film. “I never fully appreciated Sister Stella L until I became a public servant; I was just an actress reciting lines back then, “She gamely acknowledges that the film was a box office flop during its run in1984. “It was shown alongside Sharon Cuneta’s Bukas Luluhod Ang Mga Tala – pinaluhod talaga kami!” she recalls, laughing….”(CLICK HERE TO GO TO SOURCE), March 20, 2009


“Flawed but still masterful filmmaking

"Philippine movie queen, Vilma Santos, takes the role of a nun who becomes involved in an on-going labor strike. She starts out unpoliticized, but later learns about the plight of the simple working man and inevitably, the government's neglect of the poor masses. Her ex-boyfriend turned reporter gets tortured by masked goons and the union leader gets murdered. In the end, instead of being afraid, she strengthens her resolve to see the fight to the end. It's hard to imagine a nun with heavy make-up as Santos, but her excellent acting more than makes up for it. The men who did the torture and killing (termed "salvaged" in the Philippines, a local slang) covered their faces, but in reality, most "salvagers" don't go into that trouble. De Leon is a careful filmmaker; this film exhibits his penchant for fine cinematography and strong yet flawed characters. Despite some shortcomings in the little details, the film stands out as one of his best."
- Purarek. “Flawed but still masterful filmmaking,”, September 3, 2002

"Ang Pakikibaka Ni SISTER STELL L."

Ang Sister Stella L (Regal Films, Inc.) ay isang pelikulang nagpapamukha ng mga kontemporaryong suliraning panlipunan sa pamamagitan ng paggamit sa pinagdaraanan ng iba't-ibang mga tauhan, kabilang dito sina Sister Stella Legaspi (Vilma Santos) at dating kasintahang si Nick (Jay Ilagan), isang peryodista, Sister Stella Bautista (Laurice Guillen), ang lider ng unyon na si Ka Dencio (Tony Santos) at ang maybahay nitong si Auring (Anita Linda). Ang mga tauhang ito ay kasangkot sa isang uri ng paglaya mula sa paninikil ng mga namumuno sa pinapasukang pabrika ng langis. Ang isyu ng pakikisangkot ng mga madreng sina Sister Stella L. at Sister Stella B. sa mga suliraning pampulitikal ay isang puntong tumutuligsa sa nakasanayang ang mga ito ay kinakailangang manatili sa apat na sulok ng kumbento at magdasal. Lingid ang kaalaman ukol sa mga suliraning pampulitikal ng bansa. Tulad halimbawa ng tahasang pagtanggi ni Sister Juanita (Adul de Leon) sa pakikisangkot ni Sister Stella L sa paghihimagsik ng mga manggagawa sa Barrio Agoho. Sa kalaunan ay nanaig dito ang pagnanasang makibahagi sa pakikibaka ng mga manggagawa. Ang militanteng partisipasyon ni Sister Stella L sa himagsikan ay isang sigaw sa paghingi ng katarungan sa karahasang sinapit ni Ka Dencio. Samantalang ang isyu ng malayang pagpapahayag ay ipinakita sa pamamagitan ni Nick. Ang paglathala ng artikulo nito tungkol sa pakikisangkot ng mga nabibilang sa sektong pang-relihiyon sa suliraning pampulitikal ay isang tahasang pagtuligsa sa dating kasintahang si Sister Stella L. Nauunawaan nito ang pananatili ng mga madre sa loob ng kumbento  at tinanggap ni Sister Stella L ang inihaing hamon ni Nick. Nang maging ganap na kaanib ang dating kasintahan sa isyu ng mga manggagawa higit nitong pinangalagaan ang kapakanan ni Sister Stella L. 

Ang mga artikulong isinusulat ni Nick tungkol sa mga kaganapan sa Barrio Agoho ay halos hindi mailathala ng pahayagan. Nang sila ay dakpin at maging saksi sa pagpapahirap kay Ka Dencio, ang karanasang ito ay nagsilbing pagmulat ni Sister Stella L sa pangkalahatang suliraning pampulitikal. Ayon sa pagkakaganap, isinabalikat ng sensitibong paglikha ni Vilma Santos ang buong bigat ng pasaning nakapaloob sa pelikula nang hindi nagpapahiwatig ng kabagutan. Samantala ang magiting at matatag na pagganap nina Jay Ilagan, Tony Santos, Laurice Guillen at Anita Linda ay nagsasaad ng pagkaunawa at metodo sa layuning dramatiko ng peikula. Sa paglikha ng isang makataong obra at sa pagsulong ng hustisya para sa mga manggagawa ay nararapat papurihan ang direksiyon ni Mike de Leon at dulang pampelikula ni Jose F. Lacaba. Sa pangkalahatan ay maipagmamalaki ang Sister Stella L dahilan sa kakayahan nitong magbigay aliw sa mga manonood at mag-anyayang tumugis sa mga isyung kinasasangkutan ng mamamayang Pilipino.
 - Devera, JoJo . “Ang Pakikibaka Ni SISTER STELL L.,”

"Recently at the Filipino Community Center, I was shocked to listen in on a discussion of Ferdinand Marcos amongst some elders.  Shocked because they were still “pro-Marcos” since he supposedly developed the country and was good, except for those human rights violations.

The idea that Marcos developed the country’s economy and infrastructure but was overshadowed by abusing civil liberties is a surprisingly sentiment in the community.  However, in watching movies during this time critical of Marcos, we can see what kind of development was really in the works.

In Mike de Leon’s “Sister Stella L,” Vilma Santos plays Catholic nun Sister Stella Legaspi.  Searching for meaning behind the words in the Bible that teach people to serve the poorest of the poor, she is led to the picket line of striking workers.  Gradually, she begins to see her role as a Christian to be amongst the poor and the oppressed in society.  Eventually, the management (and military?) try to break the strike through terror and torture, something that is happening to this day.

Different strategies of the strike are debated as well as the “sides” between the workers and capitalists.  Although there is a simplistic framing of the “evil capitalist,” the issues raised by the union leaders ring very true today, especially in this economic crisis.

No Filipino movie could be complete without a love story, or at least the background of one which thankfully doesn’t dominate this movie.  Vilma Santos shines as the unsure but strong-willed nun in the beginning to a militant defender of the people by the end.  It is a similar role she plays 18 years later in “Dekada ’70.”  The movie ends in an almost-cheesy PSA but the message is clear and bold coming out after the Ninoy Aquino assassination.

“If we do not act, who will act?  If not now, when?”

-, August 14, 2009

"Stella for star"

It was 1984, and the mood was angry. Difficult to describe just how angry, but the film was released less than a year after the assassination of Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino, Jr., after the massive parade bearing his body from Santo Domingo Church down Quezon Avenue. The milling crowds watching Aquino's coffin pass were in a peculiar mood, a mood perhaps not unlike what the Roman centurions might have sensed from the surrounding crowd two millennia ago, while escorting their condemned Jew--veteran soldiers troubled, trembling, knowing how dangerous the moment was. Activists who knew all along, who struggled for years against the Marcos regime, felt vindicated, the same time they felt keenly the loss of one of their more outspoken members; people who wandered through the martial law years under varying degrees of slumber felt shaken, stirred--they never realized how it was, and they were angry. They wanted justice and it was not immediately forthcoming, perhaps never will be.

Caught up in the moment was Regal Films producer "Mother" Lily Monteverde. She had approached filmmaker Mike de Leon for a possible project, any project, as long as she could do the casting. De Leon suggested a Jose "Pete" Lacaba script he had been trying to develop since 1982--about a labor strike and a nun played by famed Filipina actress Vilma Santos. Lured by the prospect of de Leon--arguably the Philippines' most brilliant director--doing a film with Santos, Monteverde greenlighted the project (as to the possible controversy over the film's politics, one wonders if she perhaps didn't think things through, or simply didn't care).

Sister Stella L is arguably the first motion picture from a major Filipino studio to respond to the Aquino assassination. Not directly--the story focuses on Sister Stella Legaspi (Santos), her involvement in a cooking oil factory strike, and her gradual awakening into full political awareness; no mention of Marcos, or of martial law. But the very fact that the film spoke frankly of labor unrest, featured songs and chants with a decidedly socialist slant (it must be remembered that for the longest time Marcos presented himself as the best qualified leader to fight communism in the country), and towards the end suggested that police or military officers might be involved as strikebreakers--those were outright acts of courage. Everyone assumed Marcos' grip on the nation was tight as ever, his ability to silence critics--or worse, make them 'disappear'--as absolute; everyone assumed--and in those early days, they may have been right--that people's lives were in danger, thanks to this film.

But they were in an angry mood, and would not be silenced. You feel it radiating from Pete Lacaba's script--like fever heat--and you feel it in the chanting that on occasion is heard from the soundtrack. Make no mistake, this is a Pete Lacaba film more than it is even a Mike de Leon film; the narrative is linear, the script construction muscular, the dialogue lean and functional. The film resembles other Lacaba-penned films of the period (see Bayan Ko (My Country, 1985), and Orapronobis (Fight for Us, 1989)) more than it resembles other films de Leon has directed (I'd heard that de Leon himself admitted it was his least personal film). If (as I suspect) Lacaba's biggest flaw is an abiding fealty (once quaint, now with the passage of time somehow heroic) to neorealism and straightforward, Hemingwayesque storytelling, it's a flaw one wished would afflict more Filipino scriptwriters; if (as one Filipino filmmaker once told me) Lacaba's fault is that his characters talk far too intelligently, with too much self-awareness, it's a fault too few Filipino characters suffer from nowadays.

I'd mentioned Mike de Leon's direction. The man has one of the strongest if not the strongest and most distinctive visual style in all of Philippine cinema, and subsuming it to the scriptwriter is no small feat--if I find the film at all interesting, it's because of this unusual fact. De Leon's camera serves his story at all times, but the choice of material, the way the story unfolds, the overall tone you sense from one of his pictures--dark if not sardonic, at times both--is so unmistakable it's startling to see the warmer, more earnest emotional palette found in this film (Lacaba's scripts are rarely bathetic or unnecessarily sentimental, but there's a camaraderie found among his characters, particularly those committed to the cause--to his cause--that one finds irresistible). This combination of passionate (but rigorous) intelligence, and the intellectual chill surrounding it, holding it together, giving it form and structure, is a bracing mix--de Leon and Lacaba have not worked together since, so it's possible this may be the only example of such a brew in local films, at least for now.

Of the film's imagery, allow me to cite two--the scene where Sister Stella and Ka Dencio (the inimitable Tony Santos, Sr.) are captured and interrogated most clearly bear de Leon's imprint. Sadism and cruelty are a de Leon specialty, and what makes it so startling isn't so much the physical pain inflicted as the casual, almost cheerful bonhomie of the torturers--it's as if they're playing some adolescent game, and from accounts I've read the attitude of some of the actual people involved isn't too far off. Sister Stella at one point is seated surrounding her interrogators, and her helplessness is palpable--what is it with de Leon and the straight-backed chair that the mere sight of one in his films can inspire so much terror (see also de Leon's Batch '81 (1982) for at least two other memorable occasions)?

The second is the film's finale (please skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film), which was altered--de Leon had originally added footage of a rally that marched on Epifanio de los Santos (EDSA) Avenue (this was before the People Power revolt that eventually toppled Marcos), footage that would have put Sister Stella's struggles in a nationwide context. The film instead ends with Sister Stella framed against a serene blue sky, speaking. It's a plain speech--easily Lacaba's most characteristic moment--using simple but heartfelt words. Santos to her credit (it's the performance of her career) gives the lines very little histrionics: just the facts, ma'am, no palabok. The film's contemplative end, oddly enough, ties it with a more contemporary socialist filmmaker--Lav Diaz, whose Hesus Rebolusyunaryo (Jesus the Revolutionary, 2002) concludes on a similar note. I'd asked Diaz why such a strange finish, and he said "it's necessary--after a period of action, Hesus has to step back and meditate on his actions. He has to pause and consider the meaning of it all." Sister Stella L. is a clean dive into political consciousness and a clear call to action, at the same time there's a thoughtfulness underneath the picture that lingers in the mind and haunts one's memory.

- "Vera, Noel. “Stella for star.”, March 19, 2009


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