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Vilma Santos, In My Life and Librarians

I was finally able to watch In My Life, in which Vilma Santos plays a librarian, and about which I've already blogged in "'Losyang' Librarian?" Perhaps the significance of this film to Filipino librarians may be seen in the fact that my post has already attracted 32 comments, a number which very few of my posts about Filipino librarians have ever reached.

This post will not really be a review of the film, but I do have to say that In My Life, though it is the usual sigawan-iyakan-sampalan (shouting-crying-slapping) Filipino film, was not quite as formulaic as others I've seen in the past. The most striking non-formulaic element was the no-big-deal treatment of the homosexual relationship between the character played by Santos' real-life son, Luis Manzano, and his boyfriend, portrayed by John Lloyd Cruz. There is some tension, of course, that arises because of their relationship, but the film itself is not primarily about the mother coping with her son's sexual orientation.

It must also be said that the movie is not about librarians. The scenes that show Santos as a librarian in a library come and go in five minutes, probably less. Very little is said about her occupation later in the film. Perhaps the most prominent reference to her being a librarian—which most viewers probably missed—was when she actually shushed her co-workers at a restaurant.

I can understand why the director and her co-writers thought it might be appropriate to have Santos play a librarian. After all, if Santos is shown as a stereotypical librarian at the beginning—i.e., organized, conservatively-dressed, cranky—then it will be much easier to show how she has evolved into a more relaxed, fashionable, and happier person at the end of the film. While I agree that such a portrayal perpetuates the librarian stereotype, it must be remembered that stereotypes exist because they are reinforced by what exists.

Some Filipino librarians insist that librarians have changed or that there are no losyang (unglamorous) librarians, but I honestly wonder whether they are in denial or merely confusing the word some with all. Not all librarians, of course, are losyang, but I have met more than enough Filipino librarians—i.e., organized, conservatively-dressed, cranky—to know that the filmmakers were not inventing a non-existent librarian.

Having said that, I do have a problem with how this librarian, who was shown as having an assistant and was important enough to have a salesman try to get her approval, could later turn into a helpless employee working odd jobs. Whatever the stereotype may be, someone who becomes head librarian at a school will, at the very least, know that she should try getting an entry-level job at a library or a similar environment before she seeks work in a restaurant where she doesn't even know the names of the dishes being prepared.

But overall, I liked the film. I watched it primarily because the lead was a librarian, which I don't think has ever happened in a Filipino film before, but I could not help but get drawn into and be moved by the situations that the characters found themselves in. Not everything, of course, felt authentic but certain scenes were quite recognizable because I had actually witnessed or experienced some of them... in my life =)

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