Nora Aunor’s turn in Dementia is more of a reminder how innately gifted she is as a thespian. This reminder is what fuels her here. See how she conveys myriad of emotions in one scene when she finally remembers the memory she is trying to erase, all done with economy of facial movement, leaving the eyes – those eyes! – be, just be, to do what they do best alone. This may not be among her most memorable screen time of late (her turns in both Thy Womb and Mabuti are, and to some extent in earlier Lamangan’s Hustisya (here in Dementia, she is left with no complex dimensions to work on, only a haunting past that is revealed too late to really affect the viewers), but the reminder is there, and enough. Among the supports, Bing Loyzaga delivers a credible, well-lived performance so new from her usual roles. Her Elaine is sort of anchor and go-between, taking to Mara and her needs, as well as to her daughter and husband, both not in synch with the former.
Writer Renei Dimla is meticulous, churning out screenplays whose sequences are long, and within each are mundane activities suggesting passage of time. What other screenwriters try to achieve in five or more sequences she tries in one, the effect on paper when read is documentary-like in their matter-of-factness. Her Palanca-winning screenplay, Katay, about a neighborhood of carnapers has only about eight sequences throughout, merely documenting a feast day in the neighborhood. The first half of Dementia employs this style, which gives the film richly detailed nuances, until it gives way to shorter, immediate scenes as the climax nears.
Perci Intalan is precise down to the dot, his achievement here are his pacing and control of the material, so unbelievable for a first-time helmer. His sensibility is obviously mainstream, giving in to the demands of the genre: banshee, jump scare, dolls. But it is during his quieter scenes that he shows ability, the deftness is in the way he blocks a scene and how he positions the camera with regards to the characters. He is a visual storyteller, knowing when to pan the camera, when to shoot a scene steadily, when to cut in the middle of the scene to show another telling angle. Observe how, in one scene near the climax, he edits a scene to show Rachel (Jasmine Curtis in lusterless performance) stab his father with a scissor. Swiftly, Intalan cuts to another angle in time to catch Rommel (Yul Servo) fall to the floor, his collapse towards the new position of the camera, so that his head is in the foreground, and the body with a protruding scissor so visibly center, while farthest is Rachel, reacting to what has just happened. Such precisions of blocking are ample throughout the film you sometimes remember Carlitos Siguion- Reyna, only that Intalan is subtle and realistic, like Jeffrey Jeturian.
Dementia wraps up effectively with the best scene yet. After the story has settled down, it presents a coda – Mara in a clinic years earlier – that disorients you from all angles. The Mara here is unfamiliarly stern. She is writing a journal of her past, while her looming sickness is not yet taking over. She commits her memories to the blank pages of the journal, thus immortalizing her story. Then she erases a word she has written, one word. It takes only that one word to let us know, only this time throughout the film, why years later she doesn’t want to remember.