In the 1970s, Laurice Guillen was one of the sought-after actresses in Philippine cinema with FAMAS and Gawad Urian supporting actress nominations in five films directed by Lino Brocka, namely “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang,” “Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo,” “Gumising Ka, Maruja,” “Init” and “Inay.”
But by the end of the decade, Guillen wanted to broaden her horizons as colleagues in the industry like Mario O’Hara and Mike de Leon were encouraging her to try her hand at directing. O’Hara, in particular, showed her several finished scripts for her to work on. One script in particular, immediately caught her fancy.
The story of an engaged couple who still needed to give closure to unresolved issues in their previous relationships, O’Hara’s “Kasal?” was the script Laurice chose for her 1980 directorial debut.
To her surprise, working on “Kasal?” was fairly smooth sailing as Guillen had an easy time casting reliable actors like Christopher de Leon, Hilda Koronel, Chanda Romero and the late Jay Ilagan upon O’Hara’s recommendation.
She also got other friends like Charito Solis, Dindo Fernando, Phillip Salvador, Edgar Mortiz, Lino Brocka, Menggie Cobarrubias, a very young Janice de Belen and even her own husband, Johnny Delgado, to appear in cameo roles.
When she showed the finished product to O’Hara, he was surprised that she followed his script to the letter.
“He said to me, ‘Why did you follow the script?’ and I asked, ‘Am I not supposed to follow the script?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s only a guide. You’re supposed to give it your own personal touch.’ So that’s actually the first thing I learned about directing,” Guillen recalled to InterAksyon during the premiere of the film’s restored and remastered version last Sunday at the UP Town Center as part of the Back Throwback section of the ongoing QCinema International Film Festival.
Guillen added that O’Hara must have wanted to embellish more and add to what he wrote. But she contended that the script was already perfect as it was. When De Leon showed her the rushes of “Kasal?” at the LVN studios, she immediately felt a sense of fulfillment and even likened working on the project as like giving birth to her first child.
“When I saw it, I thought to myself, this is me. Not like in the sense that it’s a photograph or stillshot of me but in the sense that the film was reflective of my sensibilities and everything that I am,” she admitted.
In the book, “Focus on Filipino Films (A Sampling 1951-1982), critic and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino founding member Nicanor Tiongson wrote that Guillen “succeeded in molding her characters into real people by insisting on a casual but deeply felt acting style, on ordinary situations (no big dramatic scenes), on mood rather than melodious music, and on accurate, not showy, production.”
Another film critic, Noel Vera recently told InterAksyon that as debut features go, “Kasal?” ranks right up there with the first films of Raymond Red, Tikoy Aguiluz, Ishmael Bernal and Mario O’Hara.
“The film is a neorealist drama about marriage itself. I think it’s a lovely film and a well-observed carefully constructed script,” Vera added. “It’s not so common but it’s closer to what Nancy Savoca did nine years later in ‘True Love.’ I like True Love’s conclusion better but O’Hara and Guillen did it first in ‘Kasal?.”
“Maybe my only problem is with the ending which kind of affirms the sanctity of marriage; I would have liked to have seen a little more doubt on the faces of the celebrants.”
Guillen would go on to have a distinguished career as filmmaker with an impressive body of work that include award-winning works like “Salome,” “Init sa Magdamag” “Kapag Langit ang Humatol,” “Magkano ang Iyong Dangal” “Tanging Yaman” and “Santa Santita.”
In recent years, she would also become the competition chairman of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, presiding over the selection of numerous films that would bring honor to the country in international film festivals. Working with Guillen side by side at Cinemalaya is Mel Chionglo, the production designer of “Kasal?” who also went on to become an accomplished filmmaker himself.