Fr. Fernando Suarez — the healing priest — praying by the sea in the film’s finale.
There are many things going for Joven Tan’s Fr. Suarez: The Healing Priest.
The story telling is spontaneous, the ensemble acting generally superb and the musical scoring (also by the director) blends perfectly with the film narrative.
What we initially feared – that of being treated to a long sermon on the life of the healing priest – didn’t happen.
To our relief.
Instead, we are given a slice of the normal work-a-day world of an ordinary family of four headed by a tricycle driver (Richard Quan) and a seamstress (Rita Avila) who only want the best for their kids. Quan defined his role with such naturalness he actually exuded the smell and the mindset of a tricycle driver who couldn’t wait to have a grandson.
It turned out Fr. Suarez started as a chemical engineer. While he had an intimation that he could cure people’s ailments at age 16, he didn’t initially seek the priesthood. He helped his family get back to its feet. Later while family wasn’t looking, he turned to the priestly vocation.
Ordained as priest in Canada in 2002 at age 35, his life had sudden unexpected chapters, foremost of which was that he could actually cure the sick. When he brought back to life a dead person and cured many in Canada, people sought him wherever he went.
His fame as healing priest didn’t go unnoticed. In his native soil, he acquired a big following including the rich. He helped build churches in far-flung places and continued his healing ministry.
To the consternation of the entrenched figures in the local church hierarchy.
His death this year (February 4) wrapped up 53 years of a life. It came some three days after filming was almost finished. It also coincided with the Vatican ruling dismissing all the charges filed against him by local church personalities.
By far, the film was helped to a large extent by an excellent cast who turned in memorable performances.
Gina Pareño as the distressed ailing woman cured by the teenage Suarez had moments of brilliance in that short cameo role.
Dante Rivero as the distressed bishop always on the side of Fr. Suarez turned in a quiet but powerful performance. His moments of reflections relive church figures harassed by church bureaucracy.
Moreover, the media tandem of TV journalists (played unusually well by Mario Mortel and Alice Dickson) looked credible and provided a clue as to how media looked at the priest at the height of his healing powers.
The young Fr. Suarez (Jin Macapagal) gave a smooth and credible transition to the adult priest played incredibly well by John Arcilla.
Arcilla chose a low-key approach to the character allowing him to build up the hidden layers of the person he portrayed. By and large, it is the total opposite of his role in Heneral Luna. There is quiet repose in most of his hidden moments and quiet acceptance when the personal storms battered his life one after another. It is a role portrayal that doesn’t call attention to itself. For this reason, his Fr. Suarez is a total triumph in film acting.
To be fair, Arcilla had good equal in the acting department.
Noel Trinidad as one of the bishops is the very picture of church authority and he nailed the part with such passion I could hear church altars crashing down in one of the confrontation scenes.
But I am in total awe of Jonee Gamboa who played a controversial bishop who was against Fr. Suarez’s healing ministry in his own turf.
The angry eyes, the trembling face of fury and that invincible air made his part truly unforgettable. At his age now, Jonee has no equal in the acting department.
Towards the end, the film doesn’t disappoint. It is Fr. Suarez’s story all right from the point of view of his family and people close to him.
To be fair, the film allows its audience to give the final verdict.
Did he remain true to his calling?
Did it leave out his human weaknesses?
The movie’s theme song, “Takapin Mo Ako” (composed by the director) was an ode to his unflinching faith.
With the real Fr. Suarez in the last picture frame of the film, you see the person as a child of faith and one who doesn’t give up easily.
His followers will most likely remember the odyssey of the priest in prayer in the closing scene. Framed by an arch of flowers with the white expand of the sea in the background, his prayer also unravels his life of total faith.
An official entry in the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival, Fr. Suarez: The Healing Priest will be available for viewing via UpStream starting Dec. 25 at http://www.upstream.ph.