The Great and Reclusive Soliman Cruz (January 2015)

“Have you seen him?” I prick the squid ball, a gush of vinegar and sauce squirt out.  “No ma’am, not today”, the street vendor smiled as he threw more into the deep fryer.  “He did have an interview across the road again a couple of days ago.“

We usually meet at Church or at the local pub. Extreme? OK. So Jesus drank wine on the Sabbath. That pretty much defines the great actor that is Soliman Cruz.  If you’re not familiar with his work, a shame.  His life consists of playing significant roles in critically acclaimed independent films, the other half roaming the streets of Manila.  A minute section is spent by others looking for him. Myself included.
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We were introduced many years ago through a common friend.  You’ll love the man as much as the camera does. Funny, explosive, wise and impossible to contain. Suppose it’s that hint of madness and eccentricity that can either be off putting or endearing. But his sense of freedom and spirit is what we all envy.

I decided to move away from the North of Manila where I grew up and head onto the grittier parts down south of Pasay and Malate. Makati and the Fort feel clinical. Change is good. The south used to be the melting pot of writers, actors, photographers, journalists and artists.  Now, Malate seems to be a shell of its self. If you look hard enough between the brothels and hovels there might still be a few gems. You’ll hear people reminisce- faded glories now replaced by dysfunction with a slight tint of local colour. Fate might play a hand for a chance to meet with some of the most talented and genuine people you’ll ever find in this city.

As I read the various newspaper clippings and documentaries about his life, the media forces to make sense of it all.  Soliman- “The addict, a wandering homeless schizophrenic.  A wasted talent. ” Even going to an extent of romanticizing his life ’of being lost then found’.  “Dead”.

It’s a gas.  An entire production crew lugging their equipment to follow one actor on the road. To prove what exactly? The world is challenged by someone so unconventional.  We are all safely contained in an egg with creature comforts. One man can boldly claim to live on the streets by choice.

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We talk about his trips to the Hindu temple in Manila because he knows about my Indian heritage.  A free meal is given to a person of any caste, gender or religion. Your Seva (service) in return to the temple is to wash the plates in silence, to lend a hand. The simplicity of the whole ritual is humbling. Can understand his process, routines and ideals. Like a modern day Sadhu who renounces everything and chooses to live apart or on the edges of society. Learning from the environment and the people around him. Selfish. Maybe?  Unfair to his family, probably.  Quite a price to pay. I’m guessing he wouldn’t be as good an actor had he chosen a different path.

We missed each other on the last Sunday service. Turning up at different times. Sol made sure someone let me know he was there. Our names and numbers written in a little black book which he carries around with him. But never a phone call.

A couple of days ago as I enter our local pub, he follows through. Looks well. Groups of people welcome him asking for photographs or mention movies they’ve seen. Everyone wants a piece of the star. A room divided with judging eyes. And like a hundred times over, a person asks, “So is it true you still live near the seawall by the bay?”

Where is the kindness in that?

The conversation is cut short, as I reach over to hand him a drink. Sol looks relieved. “Shirin, I just saw my sister, I’m so happy, did my laundry over the weekend at hers.” he said. And just like every other night, we laughed and talked as old friends would.  A couple of hours later word went around, a certain director had been in search of the reclusive actor. The bar owner receives a message. Any sightings? Unlike a UFO this one is well known.

I watched over his belongings as he went out to look. Wonder how you could fit your life into a miniscule bag? Sol comes back to tell me it is the famous Lav Diaz. Their last film together was “Norte, The End of History. “ The award winning director had been standing outside with his assistant at a sari-sari store for the past 3 hours- on the hopes of finding him. Baffling.
We walk out into the street to meet the man.

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Sol is promptly given a work date. Two days from the chance meeting. They sail to an undisclosed island to immediately start filming for the next 3 weeks as the lead.

“Why don’t you come back to mine tonight and we can move on from there? You know there will be no film without you…” Lav pleads.
“My mother, I have to visit my mother first- I’ll be there. Don’t worry I know where you live.” Sol exclaims. The director shakes his head. We all laugh and make our own way home from the dingy streets of Malate. The actor stays behind.

People under estimate the genius of Soliman Cruz. Instead of passing judgment or pity, replace it with some kindness.

His entire life is an art with a series of epic performances that cross all boundaries of film and society.

Sometimes we joke that we are just puppets in one of his elaborate theatrical plays.

Possibly.

Hell, quite lucky to be in it.

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15 thoughts on “The Great and Reclusive Soliman Cruz (January 2015)

  1. Sol may be the exact definition of HIS own film…the twist that he chose to take is what makes it worth watching even from a distance…the only virtue you can afford to give is respect..not even idolising him would do justice to the role he consistently portrays—himself—leave and let him be—otherwise we might lose his art…if you ever get a chance to read this Sol, take my insufficient accolade for sharing though how un-often it might be, your genius with us…and for you Shirin, gratitude in allowing us to know how he is…kudos!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading my piece, appreciate it. Wrote it to just set the record straight, I see Sol often enough and he is a friend first and foremost…was quite upset with how other people judge him from afar, or how our own local media have chosen to portray him. Sol, must be doing something right, as he’s still being hired. I plan to print this and give him a copy 🙂 have a great weekend x

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  2. Sharing a poem sent in by a close friend… SHIRIN AND SOL by DINO MADRID

    A woman writes about a man
    in a way that the inner soul
    can speak with gentleness,
    where gender does not get in the way
    of seeing with the heart.

    A beautiful man, idiosyncratic,
    with eyes that burn
    like red-hot charcoals
    in a scarred face
    bristled with more-than-a-day’s
    growth of gristle and hoariness.
    Quirkiness, in full display
    not for effect but as manifestation
    and expression of the free spirit;
    difficult and impoverished
    but real and true.

    The woman as writer
    likes the lovely man and feels fire;
    and sings from the depth of friendship;
    easy and laconic
    but delicate and sensitive,
    at the same time,
    picking the lines
    for subterfuge and meaning,
    choosing loving mauves and grays
    more than the absolute and stark
    whites and black of distinction
    and separation.

    The effect and impact are in the soft contrast
    and absences and in the subtle empty spaces,
    substance and meaning,
    never as distractions,
    between the serried lines,
    as in authentic life itself.

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  3. Shirin!!! I only met him once while bartending at 1951. I don’t know him personally but I’m glad he’s well and he’s doing the things that makes him happy. Hope you are, too! I miss serving you beer. 🙂

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  4. Hi shirin, thank you for this very fine article about Sol. Does he still visit malate? I ask this because I happen to see him in our street for quite some time now, he smiled back at us, when me and my son looked at him..he was smoking a cigarette while sitting at the corner, behind a parked car. I hope you are still in touch with him and he’s doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Reign thanks so much for taking the time out to read this piece appreciate it. I’m sure if you said hi he wouldnt mind. We’re still in touch. Met him last Thursday at the CCP. He was in his element 🙂

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