Movies about mistresses or keridas have become a sub-film genre of Philippine cinema. This says a lot about our society, which filmmaker Jun Lana likes to poke fun at. Thus with his blatantly titled Ten Little Mistresses, the “other woman” gets her turn to get a send-up. In this case, it’s the 10 “other women.” He actually spoofs two genres in one movie; the kerida genre and the whodunit.
The mistresses are kept by one man, the extremely wealthy Valentin (John Arcilla). The new widower invites all 10 keridas to his isolated mansion for his 60th birthday party. The sprawling place is run by a huge household staff headed by the majordoma Lilith (Eugene Domingo). By sheer number, they give the servants in Downton Abbey a run for the money.
As Valentin is single again, each of his guests is hoping to be his next legal wife. Much to their dismay however, he delivers some bad news. He’s become a monogamist and vows to be a devoted husband to his future wife. This means he’s unloading all 10 of them. But before he could announce the name of his next legal spouse, he drops dead, a victim of poisoning. The killer, as the cliché goes, could still be in the house. Could it be one of the kept women or the servants? Or is the killer actually the guy dressed in drag (played by Christian Bables, who else)? Or is it Valentin’s identical twin brother Constantin?
Whodunits are rare in local cinema. Thus I’m willing to forgive the fact that the premise Lana chose is unoriginal. I’m not going to accuse him of ripping-off the French film 8 Women. Let’s just say the French production was his inspiration. After all, 8 Women was recently remade by the Italians (the equally funny 7 Women and a Murder). Lana does concoct his own twists and red herrings.
But unlike the French and Italian versions, Ten Little Mistresses is only mildly amusing. It has a promising start with the servants singing a reworked version of Sampung Mga Daliri. This one is called Sampung Mga Kerida. It’s a major highlight of the film.
The women then make their dramatic entrance and so we’re treated to a smorgasbord of bitchy banter and all-out catfights. Lana spices his script with delightful bitchery but somehow the words don’t translate well onscreen. The rivals are constantly at each other’s throat and so the energy level is on maximum overdrive. Consequently, the witty punch lines and throwaway lines are diluted. The wit doesn’t stand out. Blame it on the cast or on Lana who directed his stars to give the audience an overdose of flamboyance. In the two European films, the actresses played it straight and let the outrageous situations play themselves out.
Frankly, Paolo Ballesteros is Audrey Hepburn compared to these women
I get it that Lana was making a farce and aiming for camp. The clothes by Jay Conanan were also designed to enhance the camp value. Frankly, Paolo Ballesteros is Audrey Hepburn compared to these women. The over-the-top outfits and large hats hinder their acting. The blocking is static because they can’t move naturally and effortlessly. (This was also my only complaint about Maria Clara and Ibarra.) Fortunately, virtuoso editing by Benjamin Tolentino prevents the film from looking stagey. The girls do finally get to stretch and display their limbs in the pool scene where they get to wear pretty summer outfits.
Making a deliberately camp movie seldom ever works. Camp must happen unexpectedly. Straight dramas end up as camp because of overacting, bad dialog, or over-the-top situations. The late director Joey Gosiengfiao is said to be the master of camp though I don’t think he strove for it. My guess is he liked to add glamour to scenes that didn’t call for it. He also made his actors recite inane dialogue as if it were poetry. In his film Nights of Serafina, he dressed his star Giorga Ortega to look like a supermodel going on a cruise on a luxurious yacht. But instead of a yacht, fashion plate Ortega is seen moving like Harlow in Monte Carlo in a rickety third-class passenger sea vessel. Now that’s camp.
Eugene Domingo is spared from having to mug and act like a drag queen. She plays it straight and easily steals the show. Her scenes with Donna Carriaga (a maid) are cute, especially when they start playing detective. John Arcilla gives the perfect level of verve to his two roles while Pokwang and Carmi Martin (two of the mistresses) do their usual comedic shtick to great effect.
One curious scene shows Valentin giving an orgy of priceless presents to his greedy kept women. Suddenly a female voiceover is heard doing a brief commentary on this vulgar display. Lana seems to have underestimated his audience. He didn’t need to spell it out. He does deserve credit for trying to introduce a different genre in local films. But what prevents Ten Little Mistresses from being memorable is its lack of charm and heart. His previous films, especially Big Night, had those in spades.
Ten Little Mistresses is streaming on Amazon Prime
Seven Women is streaming on Netflix