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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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Thursday, July 02, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 68

[68th of 100]. During my college years in the mid-1990s, I've already heard of this seminal 1982 film by Peque Gallaga, and read about it in film articles written by the likes of Bienvenido Lumbera, Nestor U. Torre, Agustin L. Sotto, and Constantino Tejero. But like most Filipino classics in the wilderness of those years, it existed for me as rumor or as a black-and-white still photograph on newsprint. A high school classmate who chose to matriculate in U.P. Diliman saw a screening on campus, and eagerly wrote to me: "When I saw the film, I thought to myself: 'Ian would really love this.'" Which intrigued me. Later, I happened to mention to my film professor then that I really wanted to see the film, and he ribbed me by saying: "You just want to see Maya Valdez naked." Which confounded me, but that added only to the film's growing mystique, sight unseen. Apparently, the film is very much to my liking, that there are frank sex scenes in it, that there is a painful sequence involving jungle medical surgery, also a brutal scene that ends with a finger being cut, something about Kuh Ledesma's head being blown to smithereens -- and now apparently Ms. Valdez's nudity. It was a kaleidoscope of second-hand knowledge. All that build-up over the years, and then finally one day I came across a third generation video copy of it. Not the best way to see a film I've been dying to see, but beggars couldn't be choosers. At its finish, the film astonished me, happily exceeding expectations. I think this was the first Filipino I'd seen that made such a spectacle of its filmmakers' ambitions -- and I loved it for showing me the meaning of "possibility" in Philippine cinema. I had never seen anything like it: such sure handling of scene, such keen sense of structure [the screenplay was written by Jose Javier Reyes], such pure distillation of directorial vision. From the opening of the film, where we are presented with exquisitely staged tableaus showing the sugar gentry of Negros Island [my island!] to the tune of the Humming Chorus from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly, we are immediately drawn deep into the history the film is about -- specifically, the plight of landed Negrenses and their servants at the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent occupation of Japanese forces of the island. The party that begins the movie allows us glimpses into the social hierarchy our principals belong to, and the party that ends the movie shows us the diminution of their status as only a world war can foist. In between those bookends, we witness two families and their friends weather the tightening vice of their wartime reality, from the golden perch of privilege [the "oro" of the title], to the relative silvery comforts in survival mode in the jungles ["plata"], down to the dens of death and mayhem ["mata"] that can be the only source of ones' coming of age in a desperate time. And the ambitions of the film! So many of its set pieces -- in particular the nighttime burning of the sugarcane fields that marks the film's painful transition from country to jungle -- are truly awesome for their reach, comparable to the final crowd scene and melee that bursts at the end of Ishmael Bernal's Himala, which came out at the same time, and from the same production company, as this film. It has since been restored, allowing us to see the full glory of its production, a restoration that astounded even its director. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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