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Lino Brocka: A National Treasure Remembered

Since I’ve been too busy to write a new post, I’m giving you this from my archives. I wrote this on April 24, 2003. It appeared in Arab News in my Manila Moods column. Enjoy!

I CHANCED upon an intriguing movie last Good Friday while watching Cinema One. It starred a very young Christopher de Leon (Junior) as the son of rich landowner Eddie Garcia (Cesar Blanco). Junior is lonely living in the province without any siblings or cousins and befriends the two outcasts of the town: Kuala, a slightly deranged woman played by Lolita Rodriguez, and a leper, Bertong Ketong, played by Mario O’Hara.

Bertong befriends Kuala and lives with her in his shack on the edge of the town’s cemetery, the only place in town that the townspeople will allow the leper to live. Junior, who looks like he’s only 14, is innocent of heart and thus is able to see through Bertong’s physical ugliness caused by the leprosy, and see the kind and honest man beneath the disfigured face. A few people warn Junior not to spend time with them, but he ignores their warnings, signaling that a tragedy is bound to happen.

And it does: Kuala becomes pregnant and the town’s self-righteous association of Christian ladies decide to kidnap Kuala and keep her inside until she gives birth. She manages to escape just before giving birth, and returns to Bertong’s shack. He runs into town to get a doctor to help in the delivery, but the doctor refuses, thinking he is lying. Bertong forces the doctor to come by waving a knife at him, but a town mob follows them and a policeman shoots Bertong dead. Junior weeps at the body of Bertong, while the whole town looks on, including his parents. Then we hear a baby cry: Kuala has given birth only meters away in Bertong’s shack. Junior rushes over in time for Kuala to say that Cesar, Junior’s father, is the father of her baby. The final shot of the movie was done with the use of a crane, the camera pulling back into a sweeping long shot showing Junior leave the cemetery holding Kuala’s baby.

Not having caught the film from the very beginning, I didn’t know who the director was or what the title of it was. I asked my friend Marvin about it, but my description didn’t ring any bells. I then tried the Internet and looked up the films of Lino Brocka. Sure enough it was a Brocka film: “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” (You Were Weighed and Found Lacking), a 1974 film that won six FAMAS awards for best picture, best director, actor (de Leon), actress (Rodriguez), music and theme song.

The copy of the movie I saw was a very good one: Crisp and clear, showcasing the cinematography of Jose Batac. As it turns out, the only copy of the movie left in the Philippines had deteriorated so much that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) looked for better copy of “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” when it wanted to re-release the film in 1997. The only other known copy of the film was one that Brocka had deposited at the British Film Institute for safekeeping. The BFI agreed to copy the film, and the CCP premiered the new print of Brocka’s masterpiece on June 8, 1998, as part of the Philippines’ centennial celebrations.

Born Catalino Ortiz Brocka on April 3, 1939, in Nueva Ecija, Brocka grew up watching Hollywood movies. He excelled in high school despite being poor, graduating with a scholarship to study law at the University of the Philippines. After enrolling at UP, Brocka soon realized that his passion lay with the dramatic arts, and not in law. He lost his scholarship at the end of his freshman year, but continued at UP and joined its Dramatic Club. Rejected as an actor because of his “provinciano” accent he became a stagehand instead. He also did publicity work for American B-movies shot in the Philippines. He eventually left UP without a degree, although he supposedly had enough credits for a Master’s degree in English Literature, and after a brief stint in Hawaii as a Mormon missionary, returned to Manila where he joined the Philippine Educational Theater Association in 1969.

Brocka’s first film was “Wanted: Perfect Mother” in 1970, followed by many others, among them: “Insiang” (1976), “Jaguar” (1978), “Kontrobersyal” (1981), “Cain at Abel” (1982), and “Macho Dancer” and “Orapronobis” both from 1989. He was such an excellent filmmaker that many of his films were chosen to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. “Jaguar,” “Bona,” “Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim,” “Orapronobis” were all shown at Cannes. “Bayan Ko” was also the official Philippine entry to the Oscar Awards in 1985.

Brocka was killed in an unfortunate car accident in Quezon City on May 22, 1991.

The Philippines should realize what a great director Brocka was. I always recognize his style whenever I see one of his films. It’s a combination of great shots, lighting, and of course serious storylines. Never afraid to tackle serious social problems, Brocka was able to do so in an interesting and commercial manner. He also repeatedly ran into trouble with censors, especially under the Marcos dictatorship. Although the Catholic Church liked Brocka’s tackling of social issues, Imelda Marcos was known to have disliked the showcasing of Philippine poverty in many Brocka films.

Contemporary Filipino film directors and writers should be forced to watch Brocka films as examples of how good Philippine cinema can be. Films being made today are by and large silly, derivative and aimed at the mentality of a 10-year-old. Filmmakers should stop underestimating the intelligence of their audience and try to make intelligent films for once. Brocka proved that it was possible to make serious films that were also commercially viable. Where are the other Brockas of the Philippines?

Comments (1)

  • inegypt

    There are some potentially good Filipino directors around. But most movie companies in the Philippines would rather have ‘tacky’ movies produced as long as they make money.

    Another Filipino director I like very much is Eddie Romero. If you haven’t seen his film “Ganito Kami Noon. Paano Kayo Ngayon?” (We were like this then. What about you now?), they you better get hold of a copy and enjoy it. It’s a very good period-film set during the Spanish-era of the 19th century Philippines. Fabulous acting and costume design.

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