Saturday, July 06, 2013

Sisa (Gerardo de Leon, 1951)

Sultry lady Sisa is courted by four young men. One of them marries her and sires two children. Another one takes away the life from her husband. The third one murders one child. The last one brings hope for the remaining child.

The classic film is a revisionist and visually enticing story of Jose Rizal’s character, Sisa. It bears most of the signature shots of de Leon. The first shot is a memorable close-up image of a smiling Sisa enthralled by the singing of Maria Clara. Near the end of the film is an equally memorable shot of a dark shadow cast against the walls of the bell tower.

In between are pieces of de Leon’s masterful mise-en-scene compositions. An excellent example showed a glowing lamp in the foreground with people on the background. Four people filled in the corners of the shot. They speak one after the other in counterclockwise fashion. They were wishing to be enlightened on the dark past of Sisa.

The main theme of the film is enlightenment. Most of the evil deeds in the film were done in dark places. These hideous acts were later revealed in broad daylight or in a room lighted by a glowing lamp.

Scriptwriter Teodorico Santos blended his back story of Sisa with segments from Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Amongst her four suitors, Sisa chooses and marries Peping. A jealous guardia civil named Antonio arrests and imprisons Peping. The latter is kept in a cell full of lepers. When Peping is released, he is no longer the same.

Later in the film, an idealistic young man named Crisostomo Ibarra takes pity on the marginalized couple, a leprous man and a crazed woman. More than any other film, Sisa was probably the main inspiration for Mario O’Hara’s script Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.

Another spurned suitor, Sakristan Mayor Baldo, takes revenge by bringing trumped-up charges of theft against Sisa’s son, Crispin. He fatally beats up the boy in the bell tower. The boy’s body is then disposed off in a river.

The fourth suitor, Elias, is a faithful admirer of Sisa. He is instrumental in helping Ibarra to evade the vicious authorities. He brings hope to Sisa’s surviving child, Basilio.

Padre Salvi and Donya Consolacion, the inglorious bastards from the book Noli, are also in this film. Padre Salvi is barely seen as the celebrant in Sisa and Peping’s wedding.

Donya Consolacion is in her villainous mode. She utilizes her being the wife of the alferez to break up the party hosted by Ibarra. She hates the fact that she was not invited at all to the party. 

Another scene showed the Donya ordering the household helpers to close the window because she can’t stand the noise from a religious procession outside. She becomes even more furious when she heard Sisa singing. With a whip in hand, she orders Sisa to sing and dance for her. Then, she whips her until the crazed woman escaped from her clutches.

The copy of the film shown at Cine Adarna was not in good condition. The images were chopped in the right and bottom sides. The audio was not clear enough. I had a hard time deciphering the name of Sisa’s husband. I’m not even sure if it is really Peping. It also sounds like Pedring or Peding.  

I’m still thankful that I saw one of the best works of National Artist for Film, Gerardo de Leon. This film was one of the highlights at the UP Diliman run of Cinemalaya 2008. 

Anita Linda : Sisa

*original online posting in 2008

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