REVIEW: A mesmerizing premiere fit for “The Greatest Love”

One cannot herald the majesty of a compelling and fascinating story more than a gripping and mesmerizing start.

We are drawn to the story of Gloria (Sylvia Sanchez), a woman of a difficult and burdensome past, yet trying to hold near all that is precious to her in the present.

She has turned 59 and is so blessed to have close friends, who share the same passion for an active lifestyle, and a loyal daughter Lizelle (Andi Eigenmann) who watches over her while co-managing a junk shop.

Momentous occasion

This should be one momentous occasion and she invited her other children, all who have lived their own lives, to celebrate with her. She texted them, but all appear not too eager to even send back a reply. Andre (Matt Evans), the stylist was too busy with a shoot. A rushing Amanda (Dimples Romana), a career woman and working mom on the front wheel was not even aware her son Z (Joshua Garcia) had texted back a yes. And the apathetic Paeng (Arron Villaflor) would just choose to doze off than even reading the message.

And after so many preparations, having several dishes ready and the dining table well laid out, Gloria and Lizelle just waited until they checked the clock. It showed it was already 10pm. They weren’t coming. They might be too busy, Gloria says. And even though the disappointment reels in her heart, she finds a blessing in Lizelle, who was there by her side on her special day and they just partook of the sumptuous but solitary feast.

The next day, Lizelle discovered that Gloria went off without her knowledge. She had gone to one sentimental destination that would bring back treasured yet painful memories. It was that familiar picturesque river, now engulfed by a bridge that connects their barrio to the town proper in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur. This was when she remembered the time no bridge offered that convenience and bancas were the only means to get to one point and back. Here she remembered Peter (Ejay Falcon), the boatman who always helped her and a friend make that crossing each day, a man whom she truly loved.

Budding photographer

Gloria (Ellen Adarna) at that time was a budding photographer who cared a lot about her subjects, especially that able-bodied, handsome fellow who made a living out of rowing those oars, transporting fellow provincemates to go about their day. Peter was her fixation, especially during a town fiesta when she alternately snapped photos of the event with the governor speaking and the hunk boatman who was at the corner watching.

Then an untoward incident broke the joyous occasion. An assassin tried to lunge at the governor with a knife but Peter was very much at a near distance to foil the attack, all captured by Gloria’s lens. After the incident, police took Gloria’s photos of the attack only to misconstrue that Peter was one of those behind it. They arrest Peter thinking he was part of the plot. But Gloria approached the town mayor to state that Peter had actually saved the life of the governor.

Peter was set free. After learning that Gloria helped convince the town mayor he was innocent, Peter was smitten. Peter then offered his cash winnings from a boat race to Gloria as a token of appreciation, thinking Gloria paid for his release. Gloria refused it saying that no cash changed hands for his release and that he should instead give his winnings to his mom Thelma (Aleck Bovick). And as Gloria placed the cash in Peter’s hands, they held tight and their love blossomed.

And this was very much revolting to Peter’s close friend Belle (Regine Angeles), who confronted him to ask if he indeed will court Gloria. While Peter told Belle, he doesn’t have any intention of courting any girl given that he is merely focused on supporting his family, Gloria caught them in that intimate conversation from afar thinking they were a couple.

Gloria had then given Peter the cold shoulder, refusing his offer for rides across the river. Even as Gloria braved an incoming storm to the town proper to buy medicine for his father Sosi (Tonton Gutierrez) stricken by an arthritis attack, she rode another banca. But as the storm worsened and the rains and winds got stronger, Peter also traversed the river to wait for Gloria by the shore. And when she arrived, it was impossible to set sail and go back.

Alone in a cave

With the heavy rains and strong winds pounding them, Gloria and Peter had no choice but to settle in a nearby cave to avoid the storm. There they rested, and with prying eyes on his companion, Peter then lit a fire using stones to keep them warm. And, as a frog emerged, Peter was startled, leaving Gloria amused over his fear of frogs. She teased him by throwing the frog at him that made him lose his balance and fall at his back. As she apologized, Gloria extended her arm to help Peter get up. But Peter instead pulled her, making her fall at his bosom and their faces on top of each other. As they nearly kissed, Gloria stood up and charged that Peter was taking advantage of her. Then they open up about his being “cozy” with Belle. Gloria said that he was a real “bankero,” a two-timer “na namamangka sa dalawang ilog.”

Then Peter declared that he doesn’t like Belle. When Gloria asked who, Peter was just so serious yet delighted to finally proclaim that it was she who he really likes. Her stiff expression suddenly softened, her eyes gleamed, and then gave an enrapturing smile.

Enchanting pictures

It was a premiere that truly left enchanting pictures in our minds. Those magnificent landscapes were like moving paintings we would be thrilled to explore. Camera shots were breathtaking as we focus intently on images splendidly lit with sets so accurately depicting not only location being shot but even the point in time being portrayed.

We see superb production design, from the props to the hairstyles, all faithful to the era in the mid-late 70s being depicted during the throwback scenes.

Acting performances were also brilliant, with portrayals not superfluous but akin to the correct emotion and believable reactions to certain situations. The script was masterfully written to bring so much meaning and context to the intricacies of the story and have the audience understand it so clearly.

All these praise is due to directors Jeffrey R. Jeturian, Mervyn B. Brondial, and Dado C. Lumibao for the effort in bringing not only a compelling story in its best, state-of-the-art form, but really advancing the quality of TV afternoon viewing to its finest.

Netizens are likewise impressed: