I do not deny that Jacklyn Jose’s Mryna in PRIVATE SHOW (1984) and Bambi in MACHO DANCER (1988) are a few of the best performances by a Filipino actress for a role so hospitably taken as lust-ful and sexy. Even Gelli de Belen’s take on Sarah Jane in THE SECRETS OF SARAH JANE SALAZAR (1994) and Cherrie Pie Picache’s Aileen in BURLESK KING (1999) have given us new dimensions in familiar roles of prostitutes in films.
But in a time when Roxas Boulevard was still clean and wide, when its dividing cemented islands were still open for parked cars and tricycles, Ishmael Bernal’s thesis on prostitution was much tackled to its core. ALIW (Pleasure, 1979) is an unapologetic attack on the oldest profession. It gave one sound argument of why women, despite religiosity and spiritual fanaticisms, consider such careers. Why they escape from and eventually return to it.
This is a story of three women portrayed by probably the hottest actresses in the late 70’s (Amy Austria, Lorna Tolentino and Suzette Ranillo). Amy Austria (Hostess #1), a business woman by day and a prostitute by night, has been going around in circles to find ways on how to escape the claws of the kind of commercialism she’s in. Lorna Tolentino (Hostess #2), a newly recruited bar girl, is ready to explore the ins and outs of her new-found profession. Suzette Ranillo (Hostess #3), an unwed mother and a mistress who is also on the brink of being a has-been, has been finding happiness in a life full of misery and neglect.
Though each has a story to tell, Cecile Lardizabal’s screenplay has managed to intricately weave the plot that connected each role to a unifying theme of hope and escapism.
Above all, I think what made ALIW a powerful film of its kind is how Bernal managed to show such concept in a unique and well-mannered fashion. Despite the movie’s theme and revolving plot, he presented a universal, yet unbiased argument on how women (through prostitution) are treated in a patriarchal society such as ours. In a time when a dictator sits in the highest office of the country, Bernal, in a subtle way, described each character as a representation of cultural and moral decay.
For its creative attack on prostitution and its undeniable decadence, ALIW is a film that should be seen – even once.