Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pepot Artista (Clodualdo del Mundo, 2005)

Philippine Cinema has always been very introspective. Not in a sense that the entertainment industry is as much a spectacle as its products, as seen in American Cinema, or even the deliberate self-examination of the art as seen in many European Cinematic movements. In the Philippines, self-reflection tends to be extremely personal, the film or entertainment industry as an extension of individual Filipinos' experiences, charting their hopes, dreams, and sad settling into the mundane life of being mere spectators. It's not just a spectacle, or an art, but life itself. Compare for example Singin in the Rain, which valorized Hollywood's artifice to Bernal's Pagdating sa Dulo, which charted the creation of a movie through the ups and downs of the bit players that create and are shaped by the movie. Or, a filmmaker's relationship with his craft in 8 ½ to the actors and filmmakers' relationship with their dreams in Babae sa Bubungang Lata. From Stardoom, to Kastilyong Buhangin, to Bomba Star, to Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, Filipino movies about movies never really focus on the movies, but on the lore, myth, and sad reality of the people that make them.

Pepot Artista follows this tradition. Pepot is a young boy in the 70s, growing up during the limbo when the old Filipino cinema is about to die and the new, Third Golden Age of cinema is about to be born. Of course, it's already been born: Pagdating sa Dulo was made in 1970/71, many of Brocka’s early films have already been made, and Celso is already an active filmmaker. But it still hasn't asserted itself: Nora is still the female half of Guy and Pip and is yet to threaten to throw her baby under the bridge, and Boyet is still yet to condemn that small Nueva Ecija town. In a world of komiks featuring local movie stars, flash-bang shootouts with FPJ, and impersonators (that artform that Filipinos have mastered) at the local fair, Pepot is dazzled and sets about becoming a famous actor himself. The kid, of course can't act, can't sing, and has no redeeming features that could make him bankable. He could however dream. This world of celebrity deification however is built upon the crushed hopes and dreams of a nation, whose fortunes it saw dwindle and its future equally dim with the intensifying grip Marcos has on them. Nothing discourages Pepot to pursue his dream, other than the dire reality in which he finds himself. Yet, like Leolo, he dreams because he is.

Del Mundo does a very good job of capturing the film's milieu, especially knowing the kind of restrictions he must have had. (Forget the budget, how did he manage to get cell phones out of every single scene!? In a camera-crazy populace, how did he manage to keep regular passerbys from waving at his camera!?) His world isn't mired in the filth and sin of Brocka, Bernal, or O'Hara's Manila. Which makes sense, coming from a child's point of view where filthy squatters turn to impossible mazes and boring classes with physically abusive teachers (yeah, that teacher, it's Tado, a heterosexual drag queen of sorts who specializes in weirdly masculine women who would probably be clutching whips and wearing leather during their free time) turn to games that involve play on the teacher's favorite one liners. His children go to school, make money on the side selling gum and comics on the streets, and go to the movies or to the fair at night. They laugh, they play, they cry, and they dream. His adults as usual try their best and meet real world hardships with little luck, such as Pepot's father who is scammed by a recruiter promising a job in Saudi, or his mother who shamefully buys everyday goods on credit, or the his miserable teachers who must entertain their failed dreams through their favorite students.

But beyond their challenges is their consciousness of popular entertainment as an escape, as a way to make life more entertaining and more “real.” The mother especially likes to wail and weep like any on-screen suffering mother would do, and for the most part it's sincere with a bit of self-conscious irony added. The teachers, too, are over-dramatic and over-expressive, like any over-bearing teacher should be. In a sense, they dreamed, and they realize that they have failed, but that nevertheless does not suggest that they tire of entering the world that could have been. This to an extent is more palpable than those tired movie cliches where the mother would shout, “does acting put food on the table!?” Well, it doesn't, but in a culture so saturated by movies, it's impossible that anybody actually manages to escape the reality of celebrities, popular songs, popular komiks, and popular movies by being a miser. By suggesting a constant shifting but never ceasing relationship between movies and its spectators, del Mundo gives us probably the most accurate portrayal of just the kind of personal relationship Filipinos have with their movies.

It would be criminal of course not to mention del Mundo's almost Godardian slips of the fourth wall as his characters talk to the camera, meet older versions of the young stars that they adore, act out their fantasies, and point out the complicated identities of actors (imagine, an actor playing an actor playing himself acting, as Joel Torre's cab driver demonstrates). The actions are never left unadulterated. The characters once in a while make comments to the camera. And as a movie about dreams, del Mundo indulges some of the characters in having their dreams filmed: the Guy and Pip impersonators sing with Nora and Tirso's voices, the mother gets her own melodramatic background music, and the students act out their heroic characters in the school play. But unlike the special lights and fans in Singin in the Rain, del Mundo never films them in glamour. Instead, he indulges them during the height of their banal everydayness. Sure, it puts an emphasis on the broken dreams to come, the unfulfilled promises, and the disgusting normalcy of the everyday compared to the fabulous life of an entertainer, but not necessarily. Del Mundo does underline the reality of his characters, but instead of dwelling in their misery, he gives their reality decency by demonstrating the glory of their dreams dreamed in their context. Del Mundo points out that these characters do not dream of otherworldly experiences, only a better life and a life with a certain purpose.

It's quite disappointing that many of Del Mundo's filmic references wouldn't have worked if he didn't overdo them. References to Biyaya ng Lupa would not have made any sense if the film didn't rapidly cut back and forth between the reference and the referred. Tirso Cruz III literally had to put his face next to a younger version on an old komiks to make the connection click. Only Joel Torre's appearance really made sense without the heavy hand, but it's because he still works, and his face is still familiar. It didn't quite work because it deprived the viewer of the thrill of seeing something new but not really, but therein lies the complexity of Filipinos' relationship with their own cinema: we love it, it sticks in our minds, but how can a memory be memorialized by an amnesiac? The movie directed its audiences a little too forcefully, but tell me, who the hell remembers those wooden coin banks?

Despite the need for such obviousness excusing the presence of it, it does point out one thing: that despite the film's “passion” for Filipino cinema, the result is along the lines of Tarantino. You can tell that del Mundo is a fan of the local cinema, and he reflects the Filipino craze for their own movies, but he doesn't really go into trying to understand that craze. Like Tarantino, he goes nuts trying to recreate the scenes from movies he love, poking fun at some of them, even (lovingly, of course). But he stops there. He could have broken down the Nora's very politically charged image—something that O'Hara first recognized when he cast her for his Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, and something that he almost realized when a Nora impersonator declared she too can be a superstar, with her “shimmering brown skin”—or the business of image saturation, with actors' faces appearing in notebook covers, komiks, cinema, banners, and as a result, in dreams, aspirations, and broken promises. Most especially, he doesn't really examine the fleeting nature of movies, especially Filipino movies, which are more ephemera rather than enduring works of art. Again, how can a memory be memorialized by an amnesiac? Del Mundo is content with a vague answer: we do, but we don't. He doesn't address that very painful love for the indigenous cinema, much like loving an older woman, of feeling intense passion but cognizant that love and beauty have already been claimed by time. We settle for their contemporary selves—although beautiful, only a meager reminder of what they were.

Peopot Artista suffers from the same problem that other valiant efforts of this contemporary Filipino independent movie scene suffer, which is good try but with the crappy means to make it good cinema. I've said it before and it needs to be said again, that digital images do not have the depth of chemically-produced images, and bodies in digital movies always look and feel like they are moving in a two-dimensional world. Now, with a little bit of effort this does not have to be the case, like the images in Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, but del Mundo I believe does not have the chops of Aurelius to really make the means that he has work for him. His scenes are extremely flatly lit and composed, which really emphasizes the limited gradience of digital colors. His colors—in the clothes, the komiks, the small alleys—pop, but not in a good way. Garish and monochromatic, the electronic colors are sad but without the dignity of running make-up.

Peopot Artista is a respectable effort that displays one’s loves cut short by the lack of means to make it good. The camera and the story settles into a languid study of life, but that study is cut short by the frustrating plastic effects of video—which, like 8mm films, emphasizes the movie as a video, as a capture in time and nothing more. The movie wasn’t painted using light and shadow. Rather, it was a product of a point-and-shoot camera that brought no dignity to its characters. Pepot Artista offered us a glimpse of our cinematic selves, but like a deteriorating VHS copy of a really good movie, it’s just irritatingly not enough.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Sad State OF Filipino Cinema


What's worse than not having copies of movies? That we forget what movies our auteurs made, maybe simply becuase they made so many or we areally are that forgetful. See here Piknik by Joey Gosiengfiao. Made in 1976, around the same time that Gosiengfiao made Paloma, Babae, Ngayon at Kailanman, Lulubog Lilitaw sa Ilalim ng Tulay. This movie must be fabulous, kind of like the Regal Films-produced movies he made later in the 80s but edgier and a lot sexier. And with four "men" and two "girls," Gosiengfiao might have also had a lot of fun with the concept...a "picnic" by the beach. It kills me that I don't have a way to see this movie.
- Picture from Video 48
Also from the same Video 48 post, the best tagline from a bomba: "Sa wakas...naririto na ang pelikulang Pilipino na maghahatid sa pinilakang tabing sa kanyang ginintuang tugatog!"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lumapit, Lumayo Ang Umaga (Ishmael Bernal, 1975)

I finally decided to write about this movie when I was listening to a Rilo Kiley song titled “Never,” which starts out -

I'm only a woman,
Of flesh and bones.
And I wept too much,
We all do.
I thought I might die alone.
...
I have nothing to give you, you see
Except everything, everything, everything
All the good and the bad

I don't really know why. The song is about giving up everything to be with the person that made you better. The movie is about dislocation, dehistorization, and a woman's role/place in history. Maybe there's a confluence in both song and movie, and maybe I'll understand it in the future if there is ever an opportunity to sit down again to figure it out.

This movie is especially dear to my heart because of many reasons, but especially because it introduced me to “old” Filipino movies. Digging through the “for sale” bin of a Filipino video store in Los Angeles one day, I found this old and aging cassette with the title taped on it—obviously, somebody took a Beta tape and transferred it to a VHS tape, seeing that the label was way too big for the cassette. The title was way too poetic to be just any regular old movie...”Lumapit, Lumayo ang Umaga,” literally “The Morning Comes and Goes.” Later I find that it was one of Ishmael Bernal's films, but only after the tape has wreaked havoc on three VHS players and one TV (it was a painful lesson in video deterioration). But after much cleaning, the tape finally did clear up, and the awful white noise gave way to a semi-decent Beta transfer (which means, the quality is crap, but not unbearable). The 35MM copy of the film doesn't exist anymore (deteriorated, along with other LEA films), so it makes this tape more important to me, at the very least.

The story, much like other Bernal's films with Elizabeth Oropeza, is about a woman who lives in the boundary that separates history and its subaltern. Amy meets Vic at the market where she works. They fall in love, they marry despite her mother's disapproval, she dies, they move to the city. We find out Vic is wanted by the police. When the police closes on him, he tries to escape, but did not. He pretends that he found work somewhere far while he is in jail, so Amy waits for him. After nine years he does not show up, so she starts to work at a large store where he meets Mr. Yap. Mr. Yap is the rich Chinese who owns the grocery store, and he immediately falls in love with Amy. Amy hesitates, but finally gives in and marries the wealthy man. When Vic returns, conflict ensues. Amy must choose between the two men, but could not: she loves Vic, but Yap provides for her. She is torn, until the situation is decided for her.

The plot, in all earnestness is rote and ripe for melodrama—and seemingly, nothing else. But Bernal achieves something great: through minute details, he layers the drama with meaning, emotion, and conflicts. It's his signature for the films he made during this time: small gestures and details that reveal a world. Very little flourish very little theatrics, very little drama. Through the use of deep focus and brilliantly placed pauses and glances, he reveals reality and society and the people that must exist within it, outside of it, but mostly in the boundaries of it.

Like his other movies made during the same time, this most obviously is a movie about a woman. Or better yet, a movie about woman. The desperate yet servile mother, the vulgar neighbor, and Amy who tries to situate herself between the two, the film spans the wide range of reality the Filipina encounters. The film doesn't judge her position in society; only observe the rock and the hard place in which she finds herself. Amy loves and believes in the fantasies of her na├»ve youth, but she is also cognizant of the reality of dire poverty and living in a difficult world an abandoned, single mother. Bernal takes great pain not only in memorializing the pain of forgetting her first husband to provide for her father-less child, but also the necessity of doing so. Most importantly though, he also shows that a woman can love a man with money, not the money the man has. Amy learns to love Yap for his kindness and willingness to accept her for what she is. Instead of focusing on the ideal of “true love” as opposed to the “reality” of “necessity” and “exploitation,” Bernal understands the fluidity of the “female virtue” of loving and caring. It is not an opposition, but rather a contiguous human decision made day by day, situation by situation, most commonly recognized as “existence.”

The same also applies for the men. Instead of opposing both as either villain or hero, rich or poor, virile or impotent, the men aren't just man, but creatures who, like Amy, Amy's mother, or her neighbor, must exist in and balance the line that divides social expectations and social reality. My first interpretation of both male characters is that of entrapment: in a masculine, macho, and manly world, the man provides and the woman chooses who can do it better. Worse yet, that they condone such standards and as such, the sexist attitudes that come with it. But after multiple viewings, I realize that this is not necessarily so. Bernal's genius comes from his capacity to demonstrate not only the social structure that restricts woman, but also man into a certain “role.” The need to provide and the devastation of not being able to provide is not only rhetoric—emphasized in other films by the use of such cliches as “head of the family,” “breadwinner”--but also demonstrated by its dehumanizing effects. Like Amy, Vic and Yap's lives are determined by the unceasing process of choosing between alternatives recognized as existing.

Most shocking however is the interpretation of this film as allegory of the Marcos regime. It's so simple, yet the lack of necessity for each telling detail to call attention upon itself makes the symbolism more potent. Unlike other films, which make the somewhat trite argument that the Marcos regime is oppressive, Bernal argues in this film that more so than that, the Marcos regime is the point where the Philippines break with its history. Through the use of newspapers, slyly thrown-in factoids and caveats, and pop songs, I realize that the film does not begin with an undetermined now, and ends with the cinematic version of a now-future two hours later. Instead, by reading the headlines in the newspapers that Bernal scatters throughout (and he takes great pains to show them, even if it's just in one corner of the screen—when he scans Yap's opened gifts to Amy, in one corner of the screen a Life magazine with Marcos' face in the cover, presumably victorious), I realize the film began around the early to mid-60s (Amy and Vic's house are covered with advertisement for Osmena's candidacy) and ends right around the start of the Martial Law (unlike the boisterous night scenes prior, the last scene in the film—where Vic walks away and into the darkness—was of a deserted street, probably right after curfew). Vic's disappearance and Yap's introduction happened around the election, when Marcos was running for president (the “trouble” began with a newspaper advertising Marcos' candidacy and ends with, again, Marcos' victorious face on the cover of a magazine).

The opposition between Vic and Yap is one defined by the opposition between history and escape. Vic, a Filipino, arrives with scenes of almost Filipino idyll: fishermen selling their catch to women bartering prices, small coastal villages where everybody knows everybody and everyone knows everything about everybody else, marital bliss and the start of a Filipino family, tough times, but not desperate times. It's people still rooted in their land, in their history, and in their people, where the ominous presence of the government is present but does not linger. But something changes: the big brother manifests itself through a radio announcement announcing the discovery of a criminal involved in a “murder mystery” and Bernal shows Vic's face slashed in half by a newspaper bearing political adverts. More and more the headlines appear, both tracing the growth of martial law and the progress of space exploration. Finally, Yap arrives. His store is a symbol of consumerist escape: aisles and aisles of goods, background music of American pop songs badly rendered by Filipino singers. Yap is a successful Chinese entrepreneur, and Bernal makes full use of his foreign identity. When Bernal pans through gifts that Yap gives Amy in efforts to win her over, a tacky yet effective Chinese music plays. When Amy finally realizes that Yap is willing to give his all to her, it was during a date at a Chinese restaurant. Although the Marcos regime valorized “Filipino identity,” Bernal makes the innovative argument that in fact, this political option is more about a break with history than embracing one's true self. Just as Amy reinvents herself through the escape that Yap provides, so too does the Marcos regime provide an “escape” from the everyday realities of hunger and poverty by disassociating ethnic identity from the harsh reality of history, and instead attaching to it false notions of timelessness and physical boundlessness. Identity has been ostracized from reality and becomes discussed through quotations—I became “Filipino,” Manila became “the city.”

The sophistication of the film's story however does not merely dichotomize reality and fantasy, facts and myths. Instead, it skirts that line between the id and the ego and recognizes that the world is formed by a constant compromise between what one wants and what one is. Amy does not reject Vic, nor does she reject the fantasies that Yap represents. Although Bernal cleaves fantasy and reality through Vic and Yap's representations, Bernal personalizes that cleave through Amy and the hard choices that she makes. She moves in and out of Vic and Yap's lives, conscious of her movement and the changes that occur around her when such moves happen. The morning may come and go, but Amy represents that present through which the morning comes and goes. Although the story moves through a span of years and decades, Amy becomes a sort of guide, the ever present presence that was constant through out the story's changes. It's almost like in the frenetic move through and out of history, Amy is the Filipino people, who were, will be present, and will live through the changes that happen around them.

Speaking of movement, Lumapit Lumayo ang Umaga is one of Bernal's great studies in space. His camera and actors move within spaces, and their movements define stories, conflicts, and resolutions. Admittedly, the canvas in this case is much smaller than in Manila After Dark, where he explores the slums of Manila through the cover of darkness, or in Himala where faith and doubt are played out in the solemn aridity of a desolate sandy island. In Lumapit Lumayo, he focuses on rooms, houses, cars, and moves his cameras within the confines of walls and doorways. But every movement, be it by a character storming out or a camera moving restrictedly back and forth within rooms, becomes a declaration or a narrative exclamation mark. See for example the tiny houses occupied by Amy and her mother, and later by Amy and Vic, and how the wobbly exposed frames and simply constructed window frames put four sides around faces, bodies, and actions, delineating social norms and expectations. The department store, with its wide aisles giving a false sense of expanse as the camera dollies through endless aisles divided by stacks of goods. See, too, the division between the outside of Vic and Amy's houses, and how dreams are told outside but realities are realized inside. But most admirably however is his scenes inside Yap's mansion. The succession of rooms, partitions, balconies, and spaces are well realized by Bernal's use of deep focus and a mobile camera. Most noteworthy are the “confrontation” between Vic, Yap, and Amy. In Yap's spacious living room, Vic and Yap are in different areas of the space divided by arches and different floor elevations. As the characters argue, Amy walks in and out of each man's spaces as the camera moves around them. Amy ends the argument by declaring her separation, and walks out the door. Later, during the night that Yap suffers a heart attack, Amy and Yap speak of Amy's previous life while Amy stands in the foreground on a balcony while Yap stands in the background, inside a room separated by a door frame. Bernal underlines Amy's distance as well as her independence through the telescoping effect of the doorway. When Yap collapses, Amy runs along the telescopic doorway, putting an emphasis on the decision she already made.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sindak! (Mario O'Hara, 1999)

In watching this movie, one imagines O'Hara being approached by a bunch of executives, a few thousand pesos in hand, and ordered to make a movie that would best represent their company, MetalDog Productions. (Of course, risking no confusion, they named themselves MetalDog.) This is because no other explanation would suffice for the movie that Sindak! is: tits, guns, and blood, it is absolutely and completely an exploitation movie aimed at blood-hungry males and little else. It is a movie about four guys, security guards by night, sex maniacs by day, and in weekends, regular dudes who like to shoot the shit with gin and pulutan (gleaned from their weekend monkey-hunting trips). Unbeknownst to them, they live in a world of sin and extraordinary inexplicable weirdness (inexplicable because the movie doesn't put any effort in explaining a lot of things), made apparent when a man they killed—whom they suspect of being a serial murderer—comes back to haunt them one by one. Once they start dying, they start seeing the infidelity, the incest, and the debauchery around them, and soon they disintegrate under the pressure of the seedy world around them.


Compared to many of his other movies, Sindak! Really has very little to offer. What little of the story that one can understand is thin and the action flows merely from one sec scene to one boxing match to another. The acting is wooden, consisting mainly of guys acting angry and women being slutty or vulnerable. But of the few things it does well, it does very well. The way the film is shot is nothing short of extraordinary, giving us the fear and foreboding that the story fails to give (the script isn't really bad, only that with the ubiquitous sex scenes and fight scenes peppered in every direction possible, following no logic or even imaginative coherence, the story isn't really allowed to structure the entire mess). The film presents two opposing atmospheres: that of the almost edenic green of nature, and the chilly and distance ray of light that pierces utter darkness. Our four protagonists are introduced to us through a window that looks out into distant green mountains covered with fog. As they go through their hunt, we get the sense of guys in their nature, masculinity being played out in a game of hunt.


As the hunt goes into the night, we enter into the realm of masculinity in excess: of a bunch of guys sitting around drinking until one passes out. The same location is where they murder their victim, who offended one of the guys by committing his crime on the man's watch. The night introduces us to the darkness that permeates the rest of the movie. Simply, the film is almost unwatchable because it is so dark. Even in daylight, faces are usually cast in shadow. When light is introduced, it is blinding, cutting the shadow like knives. Along with the blue of the strong rays of light, red is strongly counterposed to emphasize if not the blood of the scenes, definitely the evil that exists or is about to manifest itself. In one scene, O'Hara makes full use of the darkness, having his antagonist appear and reapparear in random corners of a dark warehouse filled with drums and tires that predictable make loud noises when disturbed. It is very hokey, but the darkness so pervasive one cannot help but be affected. Even if the running around and the chasing about of the characters seem silly sometimes (such as when one tries to run around a car multiple times to try to find their antagonist who was peeping into two people in the act), the darkness and the brilliant flashes of red that breaks the icy blues of what little light there is makes the unknown that the film thrusts its characters upon more foreboding, more threatening, and more vast.


In a twist that one-ups the American slasher films of the late 90s in which Sindak! is based, O'Hara turns the antagonist's revenge political. Whereas the traditional American killer existed outside the bounds of humanity, dignity, and law, O'Hara makes existence within the bounds of law to be the ultimate revenge. The four friends are forced to exist within the control of the police, asking for their help in time of crime. But the inept police turns the table at them, blaming them for the crimes committed upon them. The ultimate twist comes at the end, when it is revealed that the killer is in fact part of the police force. Just how this ends up happening I have absolutely no clue. Or, it is still quite unclear as to why the mayor of the city himself would be concerned about this particular policeman. Every logic and detail has been eliminated to press the singular fact of betrayal, of an overarching power ultimately bent in destroying these four men. The unknown—the fear that the title suggests—is revealed, but based on the final image of the fixed and well-healed killer/policeman, we know that the unknown is in fact not revealed, that the truth of betrayal and fear of betrayal is a self-perpetuating fact, the end of which is not in sight and the number of victims countless and boundless. Sindak! Is an exploitation of the audience's basest fears and desires sure, but it reveals that our basest and darkest fears and desires reveals a system of control as dark and as boundless.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cadena de Amor (Lino Brocka, 1971)


OK, this is kinda rough. I just decided to start typing and whatever I typed--unedited and all--you see here now.

Brocka's Cadena de Amor is a very hard movie to describe. Unlike Santiago before it and Tinimbang Kan Ngunit Kulang after it, it is very straightforwardly a melodrama, a dramatic entanglement between three people trying to wrestle with a bitter past. It exhibits no external politics, no forceful discourse, no obvious movement towards a “revelation.” Simply, Brocka had three people work their way out of the mess they are in, and the film ends when they do just that. The film opens with a betrayed bride: Sonya (Rosemarie Sonora) is cruelly abandoned by a confused groom (here nameless, a brief appearance by Mario O'Hara, who also wrote the film's screenplay; possibly a reference to O'Hara's gay character in Tubog sa Ginto?) and suffers a mental breakdown. She puts a coffin(!) in her family's living room and forbids the servants to use any form of lighting brighter (and cheerier) than candlelight. This culminates when Reigdor (Dante Rivero), an insistent suitor, after witnessing Sonya's decrepitude, proposes that he rapes her to get her out of her funk. Sonya's mother agrees, and so does he. Of course, she struggles, and Brocka uses a prolonged scene in slow-motion and stolen music from Psycho to illustrate what a repugnant act this is, but at the same time shockingly why Sonya badly needs Regidor's violation. (It's a sickening notion really, that raping a woman will somehow lead to a revelation of herself to herself, but the film is what it is.)


Unfortunately (or fortunately), Sonya rejects Regidor. When Sonya finally falls in love with him, it is too late and Regidor flies to the US to start anew. However, his plane crashes into the sea and he survives, washed into a wealthy family's beach-front property. In comes Rossannna (Hilda Koronel), a cripple who falls in love with Regidor as she nurses him back to health. Rossannna of course has issues of her own: when her boyfriend is killed fighting in Viet Nam, she tried to kill herself. Failing in doing so, she ends a cripple, but only in her mind: the doctor repeatedly tells her that she can walk if she only thinks she can. When Regidor (now called Dante, because he couldn't remember anything, and Rossanna chooses to name her after an absent older brother) wakes up, he falls in love with her and becomes an inspiration for Sonya to walk again. One afternoon, after the couple gets off a boat after an escapade to god knows where, Regidor/Dante trips and hits his head onto a rock (again; the doctor points out: “why of all places do you always injure your head?”). He wakes up, but a changed man: he remembers Sonya, knows also Rossanna, and finds that he loves them both. By this time, his love for Rossanna strengthens when he finds out that she learned to walk in the effort to save him.


Rossanna's family and Regidor (he now tells them his real name) now travels back to Manila. Summer is over, and the escapade makes way to the congested streets of the big city, and the complications of people—baggage and all—must deal with each other and each other's realities. Regidor for a time goes back and forth between Rossanna and Sonya, under his mother's disapproval. Seeing how much her son is suffering, Regidor's mother finally calls in both women and tells them about the situation. Of course they are both shocked, and Sonya threatens to fall apart again, but Rossanna decides that it is Sonya and not her who needs Regidor the most. She concocts a plan where a family driver poses as her former love back from the death, and informs Regidor that she will marry her long lost lover. When Regidor finds out, he leaves Rossanna's life and marries Sonya.


Now that I've got that out of my system, we can see the parallels between this movie and what seems to be one of the main themes of some of his more notable films: from Santiago to Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Maynila to Gumising ka Maruja, Ina, Kapatid, Anak to Angela Markado, we see that one of the driving force behind actions and motivations is the weight of the past lived and relived through memory. And the past isn't just an ordinary subjective reality that repeats itself like a Freudian trick, but rather something that has become expressed not only through the characters' subjective realities, but also manifested in the systematic conditions that normalizes certain forms of reality. In short, the pain isn't just coming from one point (a certain event that occurred in the past, a person that has caused grief at one point), but rather weaved into reality to the point where pain becomes the very essence of reality. There is not anymore “identity,” only beings trying to muck through a world of pain, dictated by the horrors of their past. Of course, one could argue that “identity” is just that, an individual trying to find the boundary between the self and the world, where the earth ends and being begins. But for Brocka, the main tension happens when the being finds the very shape that she must differentiate out of the world, amorphous that shape may be. The end result may be tragic: in Maynila, Julio (Bembol Roco), in the process of finding himself amidst the systems of human interaction that define the concrete jungle of Manila he is swallowed back into the shadows of the city. In Cadena de Amor, it is Rossanna's character that successfully defined itself amidst the pain of the past manifesting itself in the present. Like Santiago (Fernando Poe, Jr.), Rossanna, ever the Heideggerian character, bravely pushes the past to the forefront and faces the future with full acknowledgment of the magnanimity of the past and the inevitability and promise of the future. Sonya proved to be too frail; Regidor too impulsive and obsessed.


Unlike the neorealistic style he used for much of his earlier as well as later career, Brocka's style for Cadena de Amor is downright expressive. He often interchages between extreme close-ups and long-shots with cameras tilted either at an extreme high angle or extreme low angle. In Sonya's house right after her failed marriage, telephoto lens and baricades in the foreground emphasizes Sonya's distance, as if she is removed from reality. Add to that Brocka's slow motion during the rape scene, we realize that Brocka's main concern centers around the correlation between space and time, between spatial distanciation and the the progress of the past as it incurs towards the present. During the rape scene, the movie's close ups emphasized the act as it occurs now as it fills the screen, and the slow motion correlatively slowly bringing the time to halt until Sonya is brought to this present, and the horrors it presents.


The editing and camera style for Rossanna on the other hand is completely different. While editing made time stand still for Sonya, Rossanna on the other hand sees time fleet away, to the point where single acts are edited to show changes in time and space. But the act, however, of breaking out of time, remains constant. Even in Brocka's romantic montages of Rossanna and Regidor running or walking along the coast shows a constance in movement and direction despite cuts that clearly demonstrate changes in time and place. When Rossanna is trying to walk again, she would always be shot in extreme close-up, and when she falls, the camera cuts to the opposite angle, this time Rossanna in different clothing and sometimes hairstyles to denote change in time and space. In essence, Rossanna represents the transcendence of space and time, breaking free from the constraints that made Sonya weak and feeble to shape her own being. Even the film's final image suggests this: Rossanna's disembodied head against a black background, following the floating image of a bouquet (presumably thrown by Sonya, after her wedding (wearing one heinous looking dress) with Regidor, which Rossanna watches from a distance) as it flies across the screen.


Regidor on the other hand is just downright clueless. He's essentially the agent of the story's time: the narrative travels with him, totally ignoring Sonya when she and Regidor separates, and treating Rossanna the same way. The cinematic time has trapped him. He doesn't move beyond what the film dictates, his fate decided by the whims of the two female protagonists on whose decisions and flutters in emotion the narrative turns.


Of course, one could argue that rationalizing Cadena de Amor through its basest opposition is a little simplistic. But we also have to remember that some of Brocka's best films are centered around this idea of two central forces—concepts, beings, entities, whatever—opposing each other and creating dramatic tension in opposing each other. See for example the tension between the two rebels in Santiago; between parent and child in Tinimbang Kan Ngunit Kulang, Insiang, Ina Ka ng Anak Mo, and Tatay Kong Nanay; sibligs in Cain at Abel and Ina Kapatid Anak; lovers in Nakaw na Pag Ibig, Hello Young Lovers, and Binata si Mister Dalaga si Misis; and of course, between the state and the individual in Maynila and Oropranobis. These oppositions are very simple and basic, but that is where Brocka gets his power. By whittling the conflict down to its barest, the resulting drama is raw and unfiltered. Yet, in reducing drama to its minimum, Brocka also manages to reveal the simplest roots of “issues,” giving larger concerns immediacy. In Cadena de Amor, by building an aesthetic around Sonya and Rossanna's opposition, he not only made their concerns relatable, watchable, and consumable (admittedly, the purpose of mainstream film), but also transcendent and existential. I guess that is the central conceit behind Brocka, and why he still beguiles: that he is given the most rudimentary of tools, making the most rudimentary of scenarios, but with simple and unubiquitous strokes makes these scenarios statements in human existence. Brocka has been so central in discussing Filipino/Tagalog cinema that many--including myself--see it fit that we slowly move away from the usual Brocka-Bernal centric discourse and move to other filmmakers. But in all honesty, how--and why--could we move away from such deep and affecting sincerity, done in such a competent manner?