Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ina, Kapatid, Anak ("Mother, sister, daughter," Lino Brocka, 1979)

The movie starts with scenes of a Filipino small town from inside a car, with a woman riding inside and slowly taking everything in through the automobile’s dirty lenses, as if back from a long absence. Later, we find that the woman is Pura, a woman coming back to her town after twenty years living in the US, but unhappily welcomed by her sister Emilia. Pura's return brings back old baggage, from past love affairs to sibling rivalry. All this in a backdrop defined by their father's impending death and the stagnation and hopelessness that define small town provincialism.

First off, something really needs to be said of the Cinefilipino DVD quality and the movie/video's image quality in general. Although I am very glad that Cinefilipino has taken the time to put many Filipino classics on DVD so that everyone can enjoy them, they really need to spend a little bit more time transferring their movies. In this particular one for example, although the image is surprisingly crystal clear, heads are constantly cut off. I suspect it is because they have a print where the subtitles are burned into the stock, and the only way to hide them is to apply masks where none existed before. For a movie so heavily invested on framing and portraiture, it really ruins much of it. The movie's color too suggests something is incredibly off: the color has a sepia tone, giving an antique feel to the movie, thus giving much importance and centrality to the family's old house and the aging patriarch that lives in it. Now, Brocka may have intended things to be this way, or this color may be as a result of neglect, but it is quite shocking how that seemingly minor change could change the whole film's outlook.

In the center of the movie is a family feud coupled with the slowness and futility of life in the small town. Emilia's anger and Pura's detachment are both products of how these women responded to the stunting grip the town has on them. Emilia, played with such gusto by Charito Solis, lashes out for being stuck with a husband, daughter, and father that do not love her. It is irritating and grating to watch, yet also very heartbreaking. Her desperation is shown in a face that, if not angry and shouting, is half hidden, a depiction of seething rage waiting but unable to get out I last saw done well in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Pura on the other hand, played with icy reserve by Lolita Rodriguez, is disassociated, her connection to the town reduced to numbers and facts, the town only of importance to her in how it could serve her needs as a capitalist. It is not only a competition between two very different human beings, but two very different strains of Filipino acting: Nora’s restraint and Vilma’s histrionics. (To an extent, one can argue that in film, human beings and the systems of portraying them are one and the same.) The movie could only come to a head, between a woman desperate for an escape and another whose escape has left her empty and cold.

Ina, Kapatid, Anak demonstrates Brocka's skill with the camera, giving us enigmatic portraits of Pura and Emilia and depictions of actions taking place in multiple planes tied together by a soft shallow focus that both blurs the world around the characters and ultimately grounds the characters—their idiosyncrasies and dilemmas—to this world. Brocka again quotes Bergman by turning heads in a 3/4-1/4 angle from each other, ready to either turn away from or turn towards each other. This set-up gives an impression of an impending reconciliation, which only makes the conflict more heartbreaking. He also seemed to have taken queue from Dreyer vis a vis Godard, Especially with Pura's head shot in medium shot and off-center, against a solid background (usually black), looking out to the distance with extreme either to her left or right. Although the aforementioned masking kept many of the shots from giving their full effect due to cut-off chins or cut-off heads, more than not they are still powerful enough to convey the desperation for a connection and the loneliness of disconnection and detachment brought upon by displacement, economic, social or emotional. Ina, Kapatid, Anak is a powerful application of European modes of humanism in a Filipino context that does justice to both the mode and the context. For a lesser filmmaker, this balancing act would have resulted in a work of schizophrenia, the film being reduced to “art vs. pop” clich├ęs that ruin much of the “indie” films made by Filipinos today. For Brocka, pop is art and vice versa. To argue for abandoning the “bakya and tsinelas” crowd for sophistication and intelligence could only lead to a Pura syndrome.

Here's the entire film online

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