Imelda (Philippines; 103 min.)


directed by: Ramona S. Diaz
documentary
Imelda
 
Bruce says: "Which are your most memorable glamorous First Ladies? Eva Peron, Jackie Kennedy, Dewi Sukarno, Madame Chaing-Kai-Chek? These are all women of great beauty and style, who also happened to be extremely well-educated, very intelligent and had an incredible ability to appeal to the general populace although they themselves were not part of it. Some call it allure; others say je ne sais quois. Whichever, these women had what it takes to stand apart from other First Ladies, and, in some cases, they had the power to change history. Most were married to rich and powerful men for whom success was, in part, due to their wives’ celebrity. My most memorable First Lady certainly is Madame Nu, the indignant Vietnamese ruler who replaced her husband as head of state. She ranted and raved that monks who doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire in public protest were destroying the Vietnamese economy because they were using imported petrol.

"The good news is that Imelda Roumaldez Marcos is not that bad. She did not sit in an ivory tower and watch while the people suffered. She got out to the countryside and met with workers and their families. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact the Marcos family did loot the Philippines of over one billion dollars. In 1969 Marcos spent over $250 million on his re-election. Afterwards he declared martial law and ruthlessly headed a country immersed in poverty, violence and human rights abuses.

"Imelda has a New Age modus operandi that masks anything she might really feel or believe. In the course of this film she tosses around the word 'beautiful' as though she were a word repetition contestant. She whips out bon mots such as 'It is easy to be beautiful because it is natural,' 'Beauty is a discipline; beauty is an art,' 'I am able to see only the beautiful things in life,' and 'It is not expensive to be beautiful – it takes an effort.'

"Orphaned at the age of eight, she considered General Douglas MacArthur her patron saint. MacArthur introduced her to Irving Berlin. Imelda sang 'God Bless the Philippines' to the tune of 'God Bless America' for Berlin when she was a teenager. So little Imelda embarked on life very well-connected. In 1952 Imelda’s aunt took her to Manila to stay with a rich relative. Imelda was an instant hit. She entered the Miss Manila contest and was first runner-up. Immediately after the ceremony, irate Imelda appealed to the Mayor who reversed the result in Imelda’s favor.

"When she met Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda was instantly attracted to him; she definitely had heard the rumors that he would become President of the Philippines. There was a whirlwind courtship and eleven days later they were married. Initially, married life was not easy. Ferdinand it seems had eyes for other women. They had separate bedrooms although Imelda claims they always slept together either in his quarters or hers. Ferdinand had his own idea of what a First Lady should do – fit into the same size clothes she wore when they married. He made her wear clothes that didn’t fit to embarrass her into losing weight. After a while, Imelda suffered what she calls a 'near nervous breakdown.' She ultimately came to the conclusion that she needed a change of attitude. From that time forward she displayed complete equanimity. She went out among the people and became a big vote getter for Marcos; she made the people feel important. She sang for them. She got her hands dirty in rice paddies. Marcos’ rivals were all married to housewives, never seen in public. In 1966 Marcos was elected President.

"One cannot help but feel that Ramona Diaz was a bit seduced by Imelda in the making of this film. While she edits in some criticism of the Marcos family in between glamorous shots of Imelda, none of the negatives have much punch. To be fair the negatives have pretty strong competition. Imelda is shown addressing the United Nation and flying to Libya to have a private session with Quadaffi about ceasing his funding of right wing Muslim Militant terrorists in the Philippines. She succeeded with her plea to Quadaffi. Other news clips show her one-on-one with Nixon, Kissinger, Gorbachev and Castro.

"Ferdinand made Imelda Governor of Manila and Minister of Human Settlement which was an all encompassing position that was continually added to as Imelda chose to expand her scope and power. Housing, water supplies, power supplies, food, medicine, roads, bridges, and social services all were within her domain. Against all expectations, she was a birth control advocate at a time when the Catholic Church had great influence over the Philippine people. People joked that Imelda had an edifice complex as she oversaw the erection of a convention center, a folk art center, a performing arts center, a design center, plus medical facilities such as kidney and lung centers

"One very funny clip is a drag performance in Manila. One drag queen is Imelda, another Marcos and the third one of his concubines. Imelda and the concubine toss Marcos back and forth while mouthing the words to Liza Minnelli and Donna Summer’s 'Does He Love You.'

"When the Marcos family was exiled, Imelda smuggled million of dollars worth of jewels in her grandchildren’s diapers. To this day she remains unapologetic and oblivious to the charges against her. She has a 'we will be vindicated' attitude but there are still 150 cases pending against her and some of her convictions are currently being appealed. The US involvement in the Philippines is touched upon and is a reminder of what puppeteers American politicians are when it comes to protecting our interests in other countries. Ironically, the U. S. was responsible for both the rise and fall of Ferdinand Marcos.

"The film lingers for only a few minutes on the shoes. We see the collection that she left behind when the palace was evacuated. Voiceovers from newscasters provide many estimates of how many pairs of shoes Imelda had. Finally there is a sign in a Fifth Avenue shoe store in New York claiming, 'There is a little Imelda in all of us.' Should that be the case let’s pray it is the benevolent part. 3.5 cats"