The Movie Waffler First Look Review - LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE | The Movie Waffler


Leonor Will Never Die review
Reality and fiction blur when a filmmaker falls into a coma while reading a script.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Martika Ramirez Escobar

Starring: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon

Leonor Will Never Die poster

Remember auteur theory? Being a modern day equivalent to the Cahiers du Cinema cadre, we at The Movie Waffler certainly do: after all, for people who write about them, locating the vision, ideology and purpose of a movie to a singular artistic motivation makes evaluating and contextualising said film that much neater. However, today, even a second’s consideration renders the concept cutely naïve: audiences are now all too aware of contractual beef, bts drama and the hallowed status of IP for the argument of unique authorship to hold any weight. Understanding of industry factions and their varying fortunes is mainstream, too (in any local supermarket you’ll see people wearing t. shirts with MARVEL emblazoned across it - the studio as brand), and the house style of franchises dictates the look and feel of populist cinema rather than exceptional vision. Mind you, people are clamouring for the #TheAyerCut of Suicide Squad and Taika Waititi is also a thing, so maybe Andrew Sarris’ had a point after all.

Leonor Will Never Die review

Leonor Will Never Die, the superb and sweet natured Filipino comedy-drama from Martika Ramirez Escobar (writer, director, auteur?) picks up with filmmaker Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco) in her autumn years. Leonor was once a big name in the Filipino film industry, recognised for her series of successful action films. Now, however, Leonor and her family are on their uppers, with the bills piling up and the rent unpaid. Dusting off an unfinished script in response to an advert looking for screenplays, Leonor gets back to work. Problem is, a television dropped from a height goes and lands right on her head and puts Leonor in a coma... However, while she is otherwise dead to the world, Leonor’s imagination nonetheless comes alive, and she begins to exist within the diegesis of her screenplay, interacting with her characters... and authoring from within.

Leonor Will Never Die review

The Kaufman-esque constructs of Leonor Will Never Die allow Escobar to explore her main theme, which is what cinema means to people; the process of creation, and the vital escapism which narrative and spectacle provide. Even before her biff on the bonce, we witness gaudily, beautifully saturated visualisations of Leonor’s writing, via loving recreations of '80s Filipino action cinema (such a tricksy balance; the gentle caricature, and the deeply felt respect). As we witness hero Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides) seek violent retribution for the death of his brother, the gorgeous homages contrast vividly with the washed out, cluttered mise-en-scene of quotidian life. The Filipino film industry is the strongest in the Southeast Asian region, with cinema being a highly populist art form; the country has even had two presidents who were former action stars, a cultural confluence which reportedly influenced Leonor Will Never Die’s script. In a film where the narrative is literally founded upon a specific form of introspection, Escobar expressly communicates the external importance of cinema to people; background televisions are consistently switched to movie channels, and Leonor’s accident is a communal concern. And then events take a turn for the even weirder when one of the hospital waiting room televisions begins to broadcast the happenings of Leonor’s mind...

Leonor Will Never Die review

The Matryoshka structures of Leonor Will Never Die move beyond playful shtick and carefully towards a denouement which is authentically joyous, a meta nexus of fiction and real life, with the film’s climax coalescing into a cast and crew (ah, but for ‘which’ film?) singalong. In this cheerful montage, the collective efforts required to produce a film are highlighted, with behind the scenes footage presented (ah, but is it?, etc) to emphasise not only the cooperative nature of film production, but the purposeful symbiosis between film and audience. The reflective permutations of Leonor Will Never Die do threaten to disappear up the back of its own television at times, but, ultimately, the film is held together by the warmth of its intent and performances. A distinctive new voice in cinema, Martika Ramirez Escobar is a filmmaker to watch and celebrate.

Leonor Will Never Die is in US cinemas from November 25th. A UK/ROI release date has yet to be announced.

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