Anita Linda, dame of Philippine cinema

Appearing in the titular role of Adela (Adolf Alix, 2008), Anita Linda starred as an old woman everyone has forgotten. She would receive acting awards for her role in the film.
Filipino veteran actress Anita Linda passed away today. She was 95.

Her illustrious acting career spanning almost eight decades started when film director Lamberto Avellana spotted her while watching a stage show at Avenue Theater in Manila before the Second World War. Being a mestiza born to an American father, James Lake, who was a soldier and a mining engineer, Linda's sensual beauty destined her for stardom. However, due to her Visayan background (her mother, Gorgonia Buenaflor, was from Iloilo), she was reluctant as first when she was approached backstage to become an actress. She was not fluent in Tagalog, the language of established cinema, but Avellana pressed on inviting her to rehearsal the following day.

Linda landed her first role in the film, High School, in which she had no dialogue. She was cast again in two non-speaking characters –Biyernes sa Quiapo (Friday in Quiapo) and Aksesorya (Accessory) before her big-screen debut in Tia Juana, released in 1943 by LVN Pictures.

The onset of the Second World War halted film production which saw her return to the stage via vaudeville shows (locally known as bodabil) at Avenue Theater. After the war, she moved to Premiere Productions where she resumed the long active phase of her career. In 1951, she played the tragic character of Sisa in Gerardo de Leon’s adaptation of Noli Me Tangere earning for Linda her first acting prize at the Maria Clara Award, the precursor of the current FAMAS Award.

“She essayed the most definitive portrayal of Sisa,” noted Noy Lauzon, a film programmer and member of the Young Critics Circle of the Philippines. Many actresses have played the role of Sisa in succeeding adaptations.

The following year, De Leon cast her in Sawa Sa Lumang Simboryo (The Serpent at the Old Church Belfry, 1952) in which she was nominated in the first FAMAS award.

Linda worked with many directors in films that have gained critical acclaim and canonical status including four of Lino Brocka's films – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Weighed But Found Wanting, 1974), the Hellow Soldier episode in the omnibus film Isa Dalawa Tatlo (Three Two One, 1974) where she won the FAMAS best supporting actress award, Jaguar (1979) and Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak (Dirty Affair, 1990) She also appeared in Mike De Leon’s Sister Stella L (1984), William Pascual's Takaw Tukso (Passion Play, 1986), Chito Rono’s Itanong Mo sa Buwan (The Moon Child, 1990) and Mario O'Hara's Babae Sa Bubungang Lata (The Woman On A Tin Roof, 1998).

At the age of 83, she played the titular character in Adolf Alix's Adela, about an old woman longing for the company of her loved ones during her 80th birthday that everyone has forgotten. She would win best actress at the Cinemanila International Film Festival and the Young Circle of the Philippines Citation for Distinguished Achievement in Film for her performance in the film. The following year, she starred as a grieving grandmother who grapples with complex issues and emotion after her grandson is murdered in Brillante Mendoza's Lola (Grandmother, 2009) which competed at the Venice International Film Festival.

“She was very professional. I remember a shoot in Quiapo, she did not complain even if we did multiple takes. She did not even complain of the heat and smell when we brought her under an old bridge to shoot a scene,” recalled Ferdy Lapuz, producer of Lola.

Linda later appeared in Alix's Presa (2010) Mater Dolorosa (2012) and Emmanuel Palo's Sta. Niña (2012), which according to Lauzon was a “particularly remarkable performance as the grandma in a small town hounded by the miracle of a dead child with remains that didn't yield to decomposition.”

In a self-reflexive performance as Alice Lake, the name she was born with, she later appeared in Elwood Perez's Otso (Eight, 2013). During her last years, she appeared in a few films, most of which were directed by Alix such as Alamat Ni China Doll (Legend of China Doll, 2013), Mrs. (2016) and Circa (2019), which would seem to be her last finished film.

For her artistry and dedication, Linda was feted as a luminary of cinema in the celebration of the centennial of Philippine cinema last year. Philippine cinema was established, in 1919, five years before her birth in 1924. She would become the oldest active film professional in Philippine cinema history.

In her long career, she has not relented appearing in television and film, and even at her advance age, people who have worked with her remarked at her ability to memorize lines with ease. Linda will be known for her endurance, professionalism and pursuit for the excellence of her acting craft.

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