It’s a common theme in fantasy fiction stories that deal with immortality, the idea that living forever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But you don’t have to add the supernatural to learn that lesson. Just live long enough, bury a few friends, lovers and relatives. Bury a few more. And then more, still.
“Lola Igna,” the titular heroine of today’s “Around the World with Neflix (© pending)” offering, knows a little something about that. She’s 118 and might be — if the enterprise keeping track of such statistics will confirm it — not just “the oldest living grandmother in the Philippines, but the oldest living grandmother in the world!”
The film is a charming, almost serene Filipino tale that starts off in “Waking Ned Devine” territory and wanders into something almost profound, and certainly disquieting.
Because it’s all fun and games with a mayor, giddy at announcing the news, reassuring the reporters gathered for the press conference that “It’s not about money. It’s about the title!” When he adds (in, English, Spanish and Filipino) that yes, the company that compiles this stat pays out $50,000 per year of life as a prize, and that it’s, oh, $5.9 million US dollars is what that comes to, that sets up the movie’s expectations.
Lola Igna (Angie Ferro) is nonplussed. She gives a veggie diet, fresh air and “coconut wine” as the secrets to her long life. But asked if there’s anything left she’d like to do in her life, her answer rattles the grinning press corps.
“One event I am looking forward to is my death! I want to die, already!”
Peeing herself for emphasis, when her descendants won’t let her leave the stage when she’s ready to go, we get the idea that she’s serious.
But her family is tickled at the prize and the notoriety. Great granddaughter Nida (Maria Isabel Lopez) starts selling T-shirts and coffee mugs in the village shop. Great great grandson Bok (Royce Cabrera) starts leading tours of selfie-stick equipped visitors out to see the ancient woman.
And then the mysterious Tim (Yves Flores) shows up. He annoys Nida and the other shopkeepers, records video of himself doing this and that. And then he shows up at Lola Igna’s rice paddy hut and says he’s the son of her estranged great granddaughter.
But as he asks her permission to charge his phone, to vlog, to interview her and video record her life, we wonder.
Director and co-writer Eduardo W. Roy Jr. maintains that mystery for a while, but does more with the “ticking clock” of this story. An aged peasant woman, who talks to her decades-dead husband at every meal, who keeps a shrine to every loved one she’s long over her 118 years of life, is up for a big payoff. And all she really wants to do is to shake off this mortal coil.
The film’s style is meditative, with his heroine’s annoyance at the tourists, resignation to her fate, and just a whimsy about her, driving the narrative.
Tim, whatever his motives, falls under her spell. We do, too.
Roy has conjured up a corner of the world outsiders rarely see, a Philippines far removed from sexy cities and sophistication, and her immerses us in it.
And Ferro, a staple of Filipino TV and film for some fifty years, is documentary-real in the title role, warm but wary, wry but saddened by every loss her long life has let her see.
She wins our trust by making us laugh, and then uses that trust to break our hearts. It’s a terrific performance, a little piece of screen immortality brought on by playing someone who knows better than to wish that fate — immortality — on anyone.
(Eduardo Roy Jr’s “Ordinary People” is just as good, and on Netflix.)
MPAA Rating: Tv-14, profanity, alcohol, deaths
Cast: Angie Ferro, Yves Flores, Meryll Soriano, Maria Isabel Lopez and Royce Cabrera.
Credits: Directed by Eduardo W. Roy, Jr. script by Margarette Labrador and Eduardo W. Roy Jr. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:53