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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 63

[63rd of 100]. Marilou Diaz Abaya's 1982 masterpiece feels both of its time and ahead of its time, and I find it odd that it's not as widely celebrated today as it should be, even with the recent restoration undertaken by ABS-CBN in 2017. It is very much a slice of life culled from the last years of the Marcos regime, brave in its depiction of a restive Manila and the growing turbulence of the country. But in its pursuit of a story that heralded the Filipina sans the lie of the Maria Clara stereotype, the film courted controversy, earning a lackluster audience response that might be attributed in part to Himala, which came out at the same time and which probably sucked out most of the oxygen in the room. Bernal's film, starring the incandescent Nora Aunor, demanded to be seen and to be discussed, leaving Diaz-Abaya's film -- which was also written by Himala scribe Ricky Lee -- as the critical bridesmaid. I first saw this film in shadowy third generation video copy during one of those classic Filipino movie marathons Cinema One used to do during the doldrums of Holy Week, and even in its compromised form, something about it felt immediate to me. Perhaps it was because I had never seen a Filipino film before that was so knowingly pre-occupied with its feminist themes. Later, I would learn it was the second in a loose trilogy of movies that Diaz-Abaya churned out in quick succession in the early 1980s, which quickly cemented her reputation as a director willing to take on stories with uncompromising women's themes: there was Brutal [1980], which tells the story of a traumatized woman who has murdered her husband and two of his male friends, soon revealing her sexual humiliation that led to the crime; and there was Karnal [1983], which chronicles the travails of a city-bred wife relocated by her new husband to his deep-country barrio, where she has to contend with the local gossip and the advances of her father-in-law. Between these two landmark movies is Diaz-Abaya's ode to female friendship, tested by social norms and social upheavals, spanning three years of their lives, pre- and post-college graduation. Lorna Tolentino's Joey, Gina Alajar's Kathy, Sandy Andolong's Sylvia, and Anna Marin's Maritess are college classmates, a close-knit barkada with different sensibilities and outlooks, which allowed screenwriter Ricky Lee some leeway in his exploration of the different facets of the Filipino woman of the time. Joey dresses slovenly, does drugs, keeps no permanent address, and sleeps around when she is not busy pursuing the affections of an activist classmate [turned NPA] who clearly has no interest in her. Kathy is an ambitious singer of no discernable talent, who nevertheless sleeps her way to get to the top of a recording career she does not deserve. Sylvia is a lawyer who convinces herself that she is the epitome of freethinking liberalism, but cannot shake off her connection to an ex-husband who is now living in with another man, who happens to be a macho dancer. Maritess is a frustrated poet turned conventional housewife who has been reduced to being a baby-making machine by a husband who insists they live with his mother in their sprawling compound filled with kin and thousands of children. The film works because it tells its interwoven story without having to hold itself to the confines of a conventional narrative structure -- no inciting incidents, no rising action, no climax -- just following the organic unfolding in the lives of our four main characters, each reacting in specific ways to ensuing circumstances, each trying to find either peace or escape from the desperations that define their life decisions. I found the free-floating quality of the film beguiling, like a perfect demonstration of Helene Cixous' l'ecriture feminine. As a study of the Filipino woman in all her moral and societal complexities, this film is a vanguard and must be widely seen, even today. In 2003, Diaz-Abaya attempted a sequel titled Noon at Ngayon, which did not retain any of the original actors save two -- Joey's conflicted mother played in both films by Laurice Guillen, and Sylvia's rival in the affections of her ex-husband, played by Lito Pimentel. In the latter film, we find suitable conclusions to each of these women's dreams, shattered or otherwise; it also finds a resonating theme about reconciling with the past. I actually liked it, but it would have been more powerful with Tolentino, Alajar, Andolong, and Marin reprising their roles. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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