“Do you think Ma will wake up if we make her movie?” the son of a retired cinema legend, now comatose, asks in the newest trailer for Martika Ramirez Escobar’s “Leonor Will Never Die. The family drama made its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Escobar’s debut feature tells the story of Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco), a pillar of the Filipino action film industry during the ‘80s who is currently dealing with the ravages of old age and grieving the untimely death of her son. She is transported – quite literally – into the world of fiction when she takes out a forgotten screenplay she penned years ago.
While working on the script, she is struck on the head by a falling TV set and knocked into a coma. “As she lays unconscious in the hospital, fantasy and reality begin to blur” and she finds herself “awake inside her script, becoming the hero of her own story,” the film’s synopsis teases.
Escobar told us that “Leonor Will Never Die,” isn’t just a charming story of a former filmmaker spending her final days inside her own screenplay. “It’s also about how I see life as one long film that we keep on writing and revising until it’s complete,” she explained.
In writing and directing “Leonor Will Never Die,” Escobar also fills a dearth in the Filipino film canon: “The idea that out of the hundreds of Filipino action films in the Philippines throughout history, none of them were about an action grandma,” she reflected. “It’s well known as a macho genre, but I think it is something special to see it through the tender eyes of a woman.”
This reconstruction of a traditionally male-dominated genre was what also attracted Francisco to the character of Leonor, also her first lead film role. “I was very curious about the whole idea of a female screenwriter for action films,” she’s revealed. “I thought that was very unusual, especially in the ‘80s, when male writers ruled that genre.” Francisco added, “And my director Martika is a young bubbly female millennial. The combination was just too tempting not to jump in.”
Among Escobar’s recent projects is “Living Things,” a 2020 short film about a woman who finds her partner has turned into a cardboard cutout of himself, and “Quadrilaterals,” a 2017 doc short that follows a family of Overseas Filipino Workers in Manila.
“Leonor Will Never Die” opens November 25 at NYC’s Metrograph and will show at LA’s Laemmle Royal and Laemmle Glendale December 2. A nationwide release is to follow.