Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
It’s no surprise that Imelda Marcos still wants to talk about her legendary footwear collection, which supposedly would have allowed her to wear a different pair every day for eight years: Though her extravagant life as the Philippines’ first lady may be controversial, it’s a much more congenial topic than, say, graft, torture, or murder. Baltimore-based filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz lets her subject have her say in Imelda, and the resulting documentary contains what is reportedly her only in-depth, on-camera interview since Marcos and her husband, president-turned-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, fled their country in 1986. What emerges is not bold self-revelation, but stalwart self-delusion. “They found shoes, not skeletons,” Imelda says of her closets. (At one point, she cheerfully reports that the tag line for an American shoe retailer is “There’s a little Imelda in all of us.”) Yet she’s already been found guilty of siphoning $600 million in Philippine-government cash into personal Swiss bank accounts, and faces more than a hundred lawsuits. First renowned as a local beauty queen, Imelda became Miss Philippines and then, after an 11-day courtship, Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos. Thanks in part to his wife’s tireless campaigning—she’s shown singing at rallies and planting rice with peasants—Ferdinand was elected president in 1966. In 1969, he declared martial law, extending his rule for another 17 years. Imelda became governor of the Manila region, as well as a globe-trotting ambassador who greeted Mao and Qaddafi and danced with Kissinger. American diplomat Richard Holbrooke calls her redevelopment projects “just cosmetic,” but that’s fine with Imelda: “Beauty is a discipline,” she says. “Beauty is an art. Beauty is God and love made real.” Such memorable pronouncements—and some even wackier ones—explain why the film is called Imelda. Yet the focus on the former first lady sometimes seems arbitrary: This well-made and entertaining but ultimately unsurprising account emphasizes Imelda over her husband and the larger story mostly because she’s still alive. And because of, well, the shoes. Still, anyone who sees newly elected Philippine Provincial Governor Ferdinand Marcos Jr. singing Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” to a group of jubilant supporters will realize that the entire Marcos clan is a piece of work.