Friday, September 21, 2012

Working Girls (Ishmael Bernal, 1984)

In 1984, the big guns of local cinema exploited the loosening hold of the Board of Censors, a fascistic arm of the Marcos regime. Their movies begin hinting of the burgeoning yellow movement. Lino Brocka collaborated with Pete Lacaba on their long-delayed film project, Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, which dealt with striking factory workers. Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. broke the fourth wall with an enlightened nun exhorting the people to go out on the streets and fight for their rights and freedom.

Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls has a trio of small scenes that may be seen as a nod to the yellow fever engulfing the country. A friend of a sexy lady shopping for clothes gently approves of her color choice (yellow), which he says is just right for the times. The second scene shows another character alighting from a tricycle. Prominently plastered in the vehicle’s windshield is a yellow sticker with the words ‘Hindi Ka Nag-Iisa,’ a slogan coined by people seeking justice for the death of former Senator Ninoy Aquino. The third scene shows a secretary stripping pages from a telephone directory. The yellow pages will be shredded and used as rally confetti. Those scenes may be too tame compared to the heavily politicized scenes and in-your-face rally footages featured in the films of Brocka and de Leon.

However, the hilarious, blockbuster hit Working Girls is notable for espousing the idea that a woman can go places where no woman has gone before. The new Filipina can rise to become a chairperson of a large bank or even assume the leadership of our country. What a man can do, a woman can also do. As the film shows, women can do it better.

The stunning and sensuous women of Working Girls are all denizens of Makati’s central business district. Carla Asuncion, Isabel, and Suzanne work for Premium Bank. Amanda de Luna, Ann Concio, and Rose belong to a professional management company. Nimfa is a jewelry seller plying her wares to employees of the two offices. Most of them are assertive and know what they want. They achieve their goals with dogged determination and lots of cunning.

The film is recommended to people thinking of getting a job in Makati. It basically says 'no weaklings' allowed here. The searing portrayal of office politics is still spot on even today. Transport fare for airconditioned buses and dollar exchange rates may have changed but the dreams, needs, and idiosyncracies of Makati-based female workers haven't changed. Seductive secretaries prey on top male executives, who gamely go along for the ride. These powerful executives utilize their money to hide problems such as unwanted pregnancies and affairs with subordinates. Married women are not immune from these playboys. Sometimes, lack of appreciation from husbands lead these married women to have affairs.

Office gossip is not entirely a women's pastime and social weapon. Jealous and envious men also indulge in gossips and backstabbing. A jilted suitor of Isabel connives with his friends to spread unsavory rumors about Isabel. The pregnant girl, given advice by her boss Carla, eventually learns to fight back. Her restaurant vengeance act draws applause from fellow women employees.

Carla Asuncion has a hard time getting her objections taken seriously by the male-dominated board of Premium Bank. The male directors laugh at her female intuition. She gets downright dirty in getting evidence to support her objections. In the end, she has the last laugh as she gets promoted as chairwoman of the bank. It is interesting to note that Carla Asuncion's initials are C.A., which can be an allusion to Corazon Aquino.

Some viewers back then must have begun entertaining the possibility of Cory Aquino's ascension as the country's president. It is not an 'Impossible Dream,' as what Nimfa is humming at the start of the film. There is no such thing as an unbeatable foe. The Filipino people can win if they join forces to fight the enemy. The 1984 films of Brocka, de Leon, and Bernal show that they were lots of people (eg. striking workers, enlightened nuns, Makati girls) fighting the system. Two years later, they did win by kicking out the Marcos regime in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.


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Originally posted in ‘The Persistence of Vision’ blog at http://cinefilipinas.blogspot.com

Re-posted in remembrance of the martyrs of Martial Law

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