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Old 01-31-04, 06:08 AM
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Film Review: Imelda
Thu Jan 29,12:10 AM ET

By James Greenberg

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - Like Cher and Madonna (news - web sites), Imelda Marcos is one of those public figures who is so distinctive that she has become known only by her first name.

Imelda is probably most famous for owning hundreds of pairs of shoes, but Ramona S. Diaz's documentary about the Philippines' former first lady goes beyond that and captures a complex and contradictory world figure. "Imelda" is by turns humorous, insightful and infuriating and should be a hit on the international festival circuit and possibly break out to a modest theatrical run before reaching its major audience on PBS, which partially financed the film.

Diaz first met Imelda in 1993 when she was working on a film about the fall of the Marcos regime in her native Philippines. The interview was scheduled to last 15 minutes and went on for five hours. It was then that Diaz proposed a documentary to Imelda, who immediately agreed, her instinct for self-promotion stronger than her modesty.

When filming finally started five years later, Imelda honored her commitment and granted the filmmakers unprecedented access. Diaz and her crew shot in Imelda's trailer, her seaside home and in public, where she is greeted by a still adoring public.

Imelda proves to be a wonderful subject. Her charm, poise and beauty make it difficult to hate her despite the suffering and human rights violations perpetrated by the dictatorship of her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, in his reign of terror from 1966-86. At one time, the government had an estimated 17,000 political prisoners locked up.

Imelda chooses not to see the dire poverty of her country and admittedly turns her head to ugliness. Instead, she lives a kind of fairy tale life. Born into a politically powerful family and the toast of Manila society, the young and beautiful Imelda was on the fast track to movie stardom before she met and married Ferdinand Marcos after an 11-day courtship. The young, handsome couple were like the Kennedys and were embraced by U.S. presidents from Johnson to Reagan. Terrific newsreel footage shows her dancing with Henry Kissinger and being serenaded by George Hamilton, who croons, "We can't give you anything but love, Imelda."

Although Cosmopolitan named her one of the 10 richest women in the world in 1975, and when the Marcoses fled the Philippines, they reportedly had deposits of $659 million in Swiss banks and extensive real estate holdings, Imelda is either blissfully ignorant of any wrongdoing or lives in total denial. "I'm very simple," she says. "I don't know why they make a problem of me."

Exile in Hawaii and numerous lawsuits do not seem to have slowed her down a bit. She is still immaculately and expensively dressed and lives lavishly, certainly not on the $90-a-month pension she receives for her husband's war service. Wonderfully shot in 16mm by Ferne Pearlstein (who won the documentary cinematography award at Sundance), the film shows the beauty of the Philippines and the struggle of its people to just get by. Diaz obviously has a love/hate relationship with her subject and clearly takes to heart the Manolo Blahnik slogan. As she sees it, there is indeed "a little bit of Imelda in all of us."

Director-producer: Ramona S. Diaz; Director of photography: Ferne Pearlstein; Music: Grace Nono, Bob Aves, TAO music; Editor, Leah Marino.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
Old 01-31-04, 03:57 PM
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I had an old Canadian expat engineer friend in Indonesia. He had a chance to meet Marcos and Imelda when he was working in the Philippines back in the 70s and early 80s. He mentioned that it was pretty obvious from the start who was actually in charge. Tongue in cheek comment perhaps, but she is Evil! Can't believe they actually let her stay in politics.

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