Although its feverish opening sequence—in which a prostitute gives birth in the middle of a crowded, noisy slum street—promises a certain measure of sensation in its treatment of a marginalized community, Adela soon swaps the hysteria for a tone of cool contemplation. A day in the life of an ex–radio star on her 80th birthday, Adolfo Alix Jr.’s film follows its lonely, battle-scarred heroine (Filipino screen legend Anita Linda) on her quotidian rounds through Manila’s soon-to-be-demolished Bernardo dump. Leaving her tin-roofed shack, Adela gets a manicure, visits her son in jail, and finally stumbles on a karaoke party that’s the closest she gets to a birthday celebration. With its art-perfect snapshot of a community-in-flux, Adela calls to mind Pedro Costa’s similarly rigorous slum-life portrait Colossal Youth. But whereas that Portuguese film is a prolonged immersion in its own marginalized setting, Alix keeps his incurious distance. Despite the general credibility of this portrait of a transient town—complete with impeccable long-shot images of Bernardo’s impending destruction—and a game effort by Linda, the film feels a little too removed, preventing our intimacy with Bernardo life and one of its central figures.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 13, 2009