A story about a simple girl who uses her gift of running to raise money for the pressing needs of her family, “Thelma” not only touches the heart but moves the spirit to step up to the plate and soar swiftly, purposefully above obstacles. Whats’ more amazing is that Thelma does this even when her father had expressly said that he had preferred having a son over her, and despite the lack of resources.
Maja Salvador in a scene from 'Thelma'
“Thelma” lead star Maja Salvador is a revelation. She effectively portrays underdog without watering down the steely determination that her character possesses. When people cry with Thelma, it’s not because she is broken but that they know how hard she had tried to hold back the tears. And when they cheer her on, they do so not for the cash prize or honors, but for her intention of uplifting her family’s life back home while realizing a hard-earned dream.
Kudos goes to Maja for going the extra mile to make “Thelma” as realistic as possible. She not only gave all heart to the film, but her body, too, by meeting the physical demands of her character including running barefoot on hard, rocky surface. Few actresses would’ve given more or done as well as she did.
The support actors John Arcilla, Tetchie Agbayani, Eliza Pineda, Jason Abalos etc. are not mere “decorations” here. Each of them found a way to play “small” or “big” as required, thus, making himself as vital as any fiber in a tapestry.
They also have their moments: Eliza as Hannah is especially affecting in the scenes with Thelma where they talk about their future; drawing strength from each other if not offering it freely as lifeline. The back stories of Thelma’s parents, Aldo and Floring, give the runner’s struggles and sacrifice even more weight. Jason, whose character takes a romantic fancy on Thelma, complements the feel-good thrust of the film without reducing it to mush or just-a-love-story-in-disguise.
The real star of the film is director Paul Soriano. We can hardly believe that “Thelma” was done on “indie” budget considering the superb quality of the visuals. One of our first thoughts some minutes into the film was to jump into the next plane and fly to Ilocos Norte in order to see if it really is as breathtaking as Soriano presented it. The lighting is so warm and inviting that it’s like seeing things for the first time.
Soriano’s visuals alternate between getting that “classic” feel when scenes were shot in the province; and that adventurous vibe in camera movements in the scenes shot in Manila. Soriano is versatile and so sure of how to deliver on what he had set out to achieve that there’s not a single scene in “Thelma” that you can’t use as stills, frame, hang on a wall and call art. The sepia effect lends poignancy to select scenes while the panoramic shots were used not for vanity or out of whim, but to capture the strength of crashing waves, the breadth of fields and the grit of concrete roads.
Soriano, at the very least, is a master in giving a sense of texture to visuals that resonate emotionally and translate onscreen gorgeously. If he keeps on doing this, the quality of his work will no doubt become a brand in itself, some sort of canon.
We laud the musical scoring. Though they often heighten scenes with swelling sound and dramatic melodic movements, sometimes a whimper of a melodic line or a soft bed of orchestral lush worked just as well. We also like it that Soriano used an English song (“Nowhere To Run” by Mark Escueta) in the end because it all the more gave “Thelma” that international feel.
“Thelma” comes at a time when indie films have earned a reputation of having left-off- center orientation. But “Thelma” tells a story that everyone already knows by heart: Good triumphs, love empowers, values matters.
And when we find ourselves applauding the timeless message, it’s because we are no longer the same person from an hour and a half ago.
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