Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. The 1st movie on my list is Sunshine Lichauco de Leon and Suzanne Richiardone’s Curiosity, Adventure, & Love.
Jessie Lichauco is a perfect subject for a documentary.
As of writing, she’s 105 years old, living in an ancestral home recognized as a historical building by the Philippine government near the Pasig River where she has lived most of her life; a body of water that’s been used by Filipinos a long time ago as a place to get their food, to conduct their businesses, or to travel within what is now known as Metro Manila.
She was born in Cuba, orphaned when she was still a child, & sent by her relatives to a convent school in St. Augustine, Florida; which coincidentally is where Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth. She met a Filipino lawyer named Marcial Lichauco – the first Filipino to graduate at Harvard University – while he was on a mission to convince the American leaders to grant independence to the Philippines. Both of them hit it off & started a whirlwind romance. When she was invited by Marcial to visit the Philippines, she traveled halfway around the world during a time, when a woman doing something like this is unorthodox, in order to be with him; she did this while she was 18 years old. They got married that same year.
She was here during the Japanese occupation & managed to avoid the wrath of Japanese soldiers against Americans. During the war, she turned her temporary house into a makeshift hospital, helping those who are wounded, hungry, & homeless. After the war, she became more involved in philanthropic work. She focused on helping children in need, joining organizations that focus on helping those who are abandoned, neglected, or orphaned like Association De Damas De Filipinas, or personally putting them through school.
Thankfully, we live in a universe were not only does Jessie Lichauco is alive & doing well, she has her own documentary featuring her outstanding life.
The whole movie features interviews from Jessie Lichauco herself, who’s still as sharp, charismatic & witty as ever. She relays anecdotes from her past without losing her youthful spirit.
And the stories she tells are fascinating & inspiring, because of her place in Philippine history. She has lived an unconventional life: she ended up marrying a Filipino diplomat & living in the Philippines during the time of American occupation up to the present. Philippine history is humanized from her stories, from the country’s struggles during the World War II & its growth afterwards, with Jessie Lichauco as our main narrator. She tells stories about the vibrancy & hospitality of Filipinos when she first entered the country, & how Marcial & Jessie went on adventures around the world for eight years before they decided to settle down & have a family. She talks about surviving the brutality of war & her willingness to help those in need, even if it’s a Japanese soldier.
The movie shifts to her life as a philanthropist, mother, & a diplomat’s wife after discussing her life after World Wad II. She raised her children in a home with a loving, warm environment. She opened her home not just to foreign dignitaries, where she preferred to take them in order for them to know Filipinos better, but also to those in need.
All of these are intercut with archival footage & photographs, & interviews from historians like Carlos Celdran, World War II veterans, her children, her grandchildren & those she have helped, personally & through her foundation. It’s a conventional documentary for an unconventional figure & it mostly works. It keeps the movie focused around her & her work. However, it loses some of its steam once it talks about her life after the war, since the movie opens the floor to so many people. This decision makes sense, since it shows the effects of her kindness & philanthropy, but it loses Jessie Lichauco’s magnetic presence in the process.
It’s still a fascinating look at a woman who lived her life with the values mentioned in the title. It may have been coincidence this ended up as my 1st entry for #52FilmsByWomen, but I couldn’t think of a better way of starting my list with this lovely look at an inspiring woman whose humanity should be something to aspire to.
If you are interested to learn more about her or can’t watch this movie anywhere, this episode of CNN Philippines’ Profiles should suffice: