Closer to Home (Elibon Films, NR)

This story is not particularly novel but it is competently presented, with more than the usual number of complications adding a realistic touch to the proceedings.



Dean (John Michael Bolger), a 20-year veteran of the Merchant Marine, is shopping for a bride at an agency that specializes in matching American men with Filipino women. He is taken with a picture of Dalisay (the beautiful Madeline Ortaliz, in what appears to have been her only film role), a shy girl working in a factory who wants to get to the U.S. so she can earn more money to help her family. Thus is born a romance, or at least some facsimile of one, green card style. This story is not particularly novel but it is competently presented in Closer to Home, with more than the usual number of complications adding a realistic touch to the proceedings.

The mercantile nature of the Filipino bride trade is not at all subtle in this film. Dalisay has a sick sister and sees no other way to get the money to help her. The middlemen who make the connections (including a hard-bitten woman at the U.S. agency where Dean first sees Dalisay’s picture and a sleazy Filipino visa broker who takes an overly personal interest in the girls he "helps") are caricatures of the slightly-less-poor preying on the slightly-more-poor. Yet this all rings true; if there are interested buyers and sellers a market will be made, and it’s not surprising that people become involved out of self-interest rather than altruism. Along the same lines, if Dalisay is entering into a marriage with ulterior motives you can’t really blame her given the circumstances.

The sections of Closer to Home shot in the Philippines are more successful than those shot in the U.S., in no small part because they show us a part of the world seldom captured in films released in the U.S. Excellent cinematography by Irek Hartowicz sets Closer to Home above many similar films as different Filipino environments, from a religious procession to the house of a local godfather, are presented with great respect and care. Seeing the New York City of the mid-‘90s captured on film also has its fascinations, although it’s much less of a novelty.

Writer (with Ruben Arthur Nicdao)/director Joseph Nobile has more sympathy for his Filipino characters than for the Americans in this story. Dalisay’s poor-but-noble family appears almost saintly while Dean’s family, who in global terms were born on third base by virtue of their nationality, seem to do nothing but squabble with each other. Elizabeth Bracco is cast in the thankless role of an unmitigated bitch while her husband Nick (Ralph Buckley) has only one note, that of unblinking self-centeredness. Edward Lane appears in a genial if not entirely convincing role as the wise old family member trying to help the younger generation work out their difficulties.

Closer to Home is the kind of film that makes me rejoice that I live in the age of the DVD. It’s a quintessential festival film (and in fact appeared in over 30 film festivals around the world ca. 1995) that doesn’t have the broad-based appeal necessary for a strong theatrical run, yet will be of interest to a substantial number of viewers. Thanks to our technologically-enlightened times you can watch it at home, and as this film has something of the feel of a television movie already it looks perfectly fine on the small screen. | Sarah Boslaugh


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