Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love and Aging

Age does not protect you from love, but love, to a certain extent, protects you from age.” This quote from Anais Nin begins Mona Lisa Yuchengco’s extraordinary debut documentary “66 years, 2 months, 21 days… and still counting…” which had its premiere US showing on May 16, 2009 at Skyline College in San Mateo .

While the viewers are still digesting the meaning of the quote and trying to guess what the title may allude to, the movie unfolds, introducing a man who was born on June 15, 1914, the youngest of 14 boys. Delfin Gonzalez Sr., then appears with a smile to say that his parents wanted a girl so desperately that when he was born, they dressed him up as a girl, as shown in the early family photos.

Gonzalez is 95 years young. He is articulate and blessed with infectious humor and a photographic memory, an uncanny ability to remember seemingly every detail of his life. He was a “Tondo boy” who went to the University of the Philippines (UP), became the editor of the Philippinensian college paper, and graduated from the UP Law School in 1938. But all the honors in the=2 0world paled in comparison to meeting his soul mate, the beautiful, intelligent Aurea Carballo.

It was a four year courtship. He would regularly visit “Auring” at her home on weekends where her chaperone mother was always present with an alarm clock set at 9 p.m. to tell him it was time to go. When he finally had enough money, he proposed to her and bought two gold wedding bands from La Estrella del Norte for 40 pesos the actual receipt of which was shown in the film. The date on the receipt is December 7, 1941, just a day before Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor . Delfin and Aurea were married shortly before the Japanese invaded the Philippines .

The title of the documentary refers to the length of their marriage which ended when she passed away two years ago. But the last part of the title “and still counting” reveals the continuing love for his wife that he feels to the marrow of his bones every day, every moment of his life. The haunting music in the sound track of the film is their favorite piece, Anton Rubinstein’s Melody in F, played on the piano by Nonong Buencamino.

“I used to be afraid of death,” he says in the interview. “But now I look forward to it because I know I will be reunited with my wife.” The camera catches Gonzalez with tears swelling in his eyes, as he fondly recalls their moments together, infinitely preferring his worst day with her to his best day without her.

When I viewed the film at Skyline College with about 150 others on May 16, there was not a dry eye among us as we were transfixed on the scene when Gonzalez is unable to hold back his tears. Mona Lisa shared with us after the film screening that she was conflicted in that shoot. She had known her “Tito Delfin” since she was young and that part of her wanted to stop the filming and hug him and comfort him in his pain but the filmmaker part of her saw that here the true meaning of the Anais Nin quote emerges- “Age does not protect you from love, but love, to a certain extent, protects you from age.”

When he turned 89 about 6 years ago, Gonzalez learned of a Master of Laws program that was offered at the San Beda College. He was a few months short of completing his Master’s degree in Economics at the Far Eastern University in 1941 when the war broke. Now 62 years later, he would have another chance to obtain a master’s degree. The classes would start at 8 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. Did he have the physical and mental stamina to complete the program? After trying it out for a day, he determined that he could and would. And he did.

Mona Lisa Yuchengco is growing old, along with those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so. (The alternative of course is not “staying young” but moving on to another dimension.) She is at that age when she has compiled a Bucket List of things to do in her life. She has already published a national magazine, Filipinas, which she sold in 2005 and which thrives today. She has been a wife and mother and recently became a grandmother for the third time in January. Next on her list: her life-long wish to be a filmmaker.

Last December, Mona Lisa enrolled in the Marilou Diaz-Abaya Film Institute in Antipolo, Rizal. “At 58 years old, I was the oldest in the campus,” she wrote, “and I had to show them that age did not stop me from competing and from being creative.”

It was not just her example that would show them but also her thesis film. Mona Lisa wanted to make a documentary about aging to show that we could continue to live productive lives as we grow older. “Not every one of us has to end as a dementia case,” she said.

The selection of Delfin Gonzalez, Sr. was an inspired choice. The difficulty was in scheduling the filming of his interview around his busy law practice. Finally, with a film crew composed of many of her instructors at the film school, Mona Lisa arrived at Gon zalez’s home at 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning and began filming at 9:30 AM.

At the conclusion of the interview in the early afternoon, the film crew stood up and gave Gonzalez a heartfelt standing ovation to express their personal appreciation of him. In the film institute’s website (www.mdafi,com), Mona Lisa wrote: “It took me and the editor two days (Monday and Tuesday) to edit the four hours of footage we had. By Wednesday, the musical score was included and by Thursday, the sound mixing was perfected. So by Friday evening, I had the director’s cut with me and on Saturday morning, I returned to my subject’s home to show him the film. I returned to San Francisco early Sunday morning happy and fully satisfied that one of my lifelong dreams had been accomplished. Another item crossed out from my Bucket List.”

Mona Lisa will be showing her film in Manila on Saturday, June 13 at the Marilou Diaz-Abaya Film Institute in Antipolo at 2 pm. A panel will speak on aging after the screening.

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