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

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