Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oro, Plata, Mata (Peque Gallaga, 1982)

The newly-restored Oro, Plata, Mata is an epic war movie that recalls the fiery grandeur of Gone With the Wind, and the horrors of corpse-filled Apocalypse Now. With a running time of 194 minutes, it is one of the longest films in the pre-Lav Diaz era. Peque Gallaga’s film is stuffed with memorable characters, bravura set pieces, and coruscating images. Jose Javier Reyes wrote the screenplay from a story by Gallaga, Mario Taguiwalo, and Conchita Castillo. 

‘The war turned us into animals,’ said Trining Ojeda (Cherie Gil). An ingénue at the start of the film, she morphs into a chameleon vamp as the hellish hounds of the Second World War reached her paradise of a home. A contemptuous Trining learns to use her charm as a weapon for survival. In the end, she sheds skin once more.

Other members of the Ojeda and the Lorenzo clans slowly shed their inhibitions and bare their true natures as well. Miguel Lorenzo (Joel Torre) makes the biggest transformation. The mama’s boy is the object of Trining’s scorn. Shamed further by guerrillas, he takes to heart the survival and fighting skills training he received from Hermes (Ronnie Lazaro). The ‘torpe’ guy loads up on beastly courage and embarks on a daring rescue-the-damsel mission.

Margarita Ojeda (Sandy Andolong) is unfairly labelled a snake by her sibling. It isn’t her fault that Miguel falls in love with her. The young lad gets some respect from her and experiences tender affection which he didn’t get from Trining.

I loved certain small images that capture perfectly the Silver, and Death segments of the film. Trining’s yearning for a single santol fruit results in a dozen of fruits being strewn away to the ground. This wasteful act foreshadows her selfish desire to save herself at the expense of other people. There is also a dreamy shot of the young adults frolicking with sheeps while being guarded by armed men. It is a memory of their halcyon, innocent days, which ended too soon.

The death of Yaya Tating (Mary Walter) is powerful for being depicted offscreen. The set up at an ominous open field has the hallmarks of a horror film set piece. The frail elder trekking towards her death followed by a long shot of a Japanese convoy ups the suspense factor of the film. All hell breaks loose as hacienda fields go up in flames.

Another vivid image is that of a servant preparing watermelon seeds for the mah-jong ladies. Of course, we can’t expect the ladies to use their mouths for tasks other than eating and gossiping. The four ladies remind me of another quartet of bitchy, foul-mouthed women from another Jose Javier Reyes-penned film Mga Mumunting Lihim

Doctor Jo Russell (Mitch 'Maya' Valdes) stands out from the bevy of flawed female characters. Initially, she comes onscreen as a snooty balikbayan. But, her demeanor and behavior with unexpected visitors shows she has the biggest, plumpest pair of caring heart and intuitive mind.

Oro, Plata, Mata is a feast for the eyes and must be seen on a theater widescreen. Despite the film missing about 90 more minutes in footage, the story is good enough for showing that war is hell. More than the gunshot wounds, the psychological wounds are harder to heal. The inner conflict lingers on lending truth to what Nick Joaquin wrote, 'there has been no peacetime since (the start of the Second World War).'


Joel Torre : Miguel Lorenzo

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Himala (Ishmael Bernal, 1982)

The highly-regarded film Himala has been around for thirty years and is still relevant as before. Film issues such as end-time signs, the need for miracles, sainthood, apathy, and the importance of faith are very much in the news and on theater screens. 

A Cinemalaya 2012 film Sta. Niña borrows heavily from the film. Another Cinemalaya finalist Aparisyon deals with people's indifference to crimes during the Marcos regime.

Just when we’d shook off end-of-the-world jitters, a meteor pierces through the skies of Russia and ends up hurting hundreds of people in February 2013. The burst of blinding light is in stark contrast with that of a total eclipse of the sun. Both, however, had the same effect of scaring shitless the superstitious and weak-hearted amongst us.

Ito na yata ang katapusan! 

Himala begins with a woman getting hysterical as darkness engulfs her village during mid-day. A neighbor calms her down by saying it is just a solar eclipse.  Meanwhile, Elsa (Nora Aunor), a petite woman in her mid-twenties, wanders around a hill. She hears a voice calling out her name twice. Then, she kneels down and prays as if caught up in a trance. 

The filmmakers capture the end of the eclipse with a stunning shot showing the transition from darkness to bright-lit day. Elsa gets basked in shimmering sun rays. She is staring at something or someone high above. We soon learned that she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The New Society movement of the Marcos administration was supposed to be the new light that will reinvigorate the troubled country. The early years showed some semblance that indeed it was the cure to society’s ills. But, kleptocracy, human rights abuses, and excesses by the administration soon diminished the luster of the movement.

Director Ishmael Bernal, a member of the underground movement, is noted for subtle jabs at the Marcos administration. In Working Girls, he tackled the rise of yellow-clad activists and women empowerment. He also toyed once more with the idea of a woman president, which was the childhood dream of Elsa.

Walang himala!

With Himala, Bernal highlighted people’s apathy towards crimes in their midst. A documentary filmmaker witnesses a rape but didn't lift a finger to help the victim. (What is going on in his mind? Is he expecting something miraculous like a vengeful angel wrecking havoc on the rapists?) In the film’s climax, a gun, from the vantage point of the camera operator, goes off and silences the truth bearer. The positioning of the gun makes me agree with Nick Deocampo’s theory that the assassin is a filmmaker.

Bernal and scriptwriter Ricky Lee suggest some of their fellow filmmakers are not brave enough to fight evil doers. Worse, some of them are the ones committing crimes. These people shun away from showing the true state of the nation in their films.

Himala alludes to the descent of a disciplined society into a chaotic, corrupt, and morally bankrupt country. Martial law was not the solution. Elsa was right. There never was a miracle. It will come much, much later after a pack of lies, falsehoods, and assassinations (real ones and faked ambushes). The impossible dream of having a new president comes into miraculous reality with the ascension of a female president, Corazon Aquino, in 1986.

Nora Aunor : Elsa