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Favorite Films From The 90’s

Hi everyone!

Apparently, it is my rundown of my favorite films of the 80’s that has garnered the most views in my blog. Thanks everyone for messaging and for commenting.

At some point, many are correct when they say that the 80’s (especially the first half) was indeed a landmark era for Philippine Cinema, both in quantity and quality. Ironically, the repression of the Marcos regime also ignited the blooming of a national cinema that discussed the pressing issues of the times. Veiled or outrightly exposed, the notable Filipino films of the 80’s truly depicted a turbulent era in Philippine history and reflected a much talked about social milieu for the movie audiences to see.

But soon enough, things started to nosedive.

The 1986 EDSA Revolution may have restored democratic rule in government but did very little in temrs of uplifting the social and economic conditions of many Filipinos. In the FIlipino film, the Aquino government accomplished ZERO when it comes to improving the quality and industrial conditions of a much-patronized artform. Hence, the golden age of the early 80’s would end sometime in 1986. It can be said that the unabated crass commercialism of Philippine Cinema and its stunted artistic growth would continue way into the decade that followed.

And that is the topic of this long overdue blog post.

The cinematic output of the 90’s would really pale in comparison to that of the preceding decade. For one, the 90’s saw the deaths of two very important pillars in Philippine Cinema—national artist Lino Brocka, who perished in a car accident in 1991, and fellow national artist Ishmael Bernal, who succumbed to a sudden heart attack in 1996. On the other hand, other luminous directors of the past decade such as Mike de Leon, Laurice Guillen, and Celso Ad Castillo, went on inactive status and only made films sporadically.

Another thing is the continued dominance of the Hollywood film when it comes to box office performance. We often see Filipino films unashamedly copying Hollywood plots, storylines, and for crying out loud—-even characters and whole titles for that matter! Producers also stuck woth tried and tested formula films that were sure to make money at the tills.

It is in this manner that most of the notable films appearing on this list have a few things in common. One, they are undoubtedly compromised works. Some films may ride on a popular genre (melodrama, action, love story, the youth film, sex film, etc.), while others capitalized on the so-called “star system” in order to recoup their capital. Few from the films on this list actually made money, but nevertheless, these films are fortunate because they were directed by gifted filmmakers who learned how to compromise between commercial appeal and artistic integrity. Save for the last film by Mike de Leon, none of the films from the 90’s that appear on this list is worthy to be called a “classic.” Nevertheless, they deserve mention because they are symbols of hope that a well made film could still be made amid a monolithic system of films made to dumb down the masses.

1. Andrea, Paano Ba Ang Maging Isang Ina by Gil Portes (1990)- This brave film was a box office nightmare. Nora Aunor essays another powerful performance as a mother who leaves her son to her bestfriend to become a political rebel. It is very interesting how the home, politics, motherhood, citizen, friendship, family, and the dichotomy of classes all come to play in this engaging and intriguing social melodrama. Aunor essays another powerful and affecting performance but actress Gina Alajar is also excellent. Gil Portes’ direction though is upstaged by the gravity of Ricky Lee’s script which is truly reasonant and relevant for the times.

2. May Minamahal by Jose Javier Reyes (1993)- Heavily attached to the romantic comedy formula, May Minamahal is gifted with topnotch scriptwriting from writer-director Jose Javier Reyes. A rehash of the rich boy poor girl format, the film rises above mediocrity thanks to convincing characterization, taut editing, and controlled acting. This film, which earned millions at the tills, shows how disciplined Jose Javier Reyes is as a director in the sense that he ner goes overboard. Aga Muhlach, Aiko Melendez, and Ronaldo Valdez turn in memorable performances.

3. Sana Maulit Muli by Olivia Lamasan (1995)- This is probably the forerunner of the OFW films that followed years after this intelligent melodrama came out (1995). The film tells the struggles of two Filipino young professionals in California, who also happen to be lovers, played excellently by Lea Salonga and Aga Muhlach. Everything seems to work in this commercial film. Intelligent scripting, assured direction, affecting performances especially of its lead actors, above average cinematography, astute editing and scoring, and competent sound. Olivia Lamasan is a good director in the sense that she uses the romantic movie foil to communicate relevant issues to her audience. Her 2004 film Milan, is another testament to her insightful storytelling.

4. Bakit May Kahapon Pa by Joel Lamangan (1996) – Another brave film done in a Brocka-ish manner, Bakit May Kahapon Pa is another story of a political rebel, a daughter of a peasant who goes to the city to seek revenge against a greedy and corrupt military man and his entire family. The images in this film seem to come out straight from the headlines —massacres, farmers losing lands, rural violence, corruption in the military, and the seeming apathy of the urban rich to the plight of the masses. Aunor gives a rather heavy handed but convincing performance.

5. Madrasta by Olivia Lamasan (1996) – This is the film that made Sharon Cuneta an actress. It is truly amazing how Cuneta discards the acting conventions and predictable roles that had prevented her growth to a truly competent actress. This controlled melodrama is the story of a woman who had to balance her roles as stepmom, wife, and career woman. A feminist film directed by a female director, the film made a killing at the box office, with the gamble paying off for Cuneta, who made this film outside her mother studio.

6. Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa by Chito RoÑo (1998) – Another feminist and melodramatic film, the film tells the story of Lea Bustamante, a social worker and a mother of two kids from two different men. This entertaining but important film examines the role of women in Philippine society. Hence, roles are questioned, prejudices are junked, and men are placed in the periphery. This film benefits from a keenly observant script by Lualhati Bautista, the excellent acting of its actors especially Vilam Santos, Carlo Aquino, and Serena Dalrymple, and the competent direction of Chito Rono.

7. Bayaning Third World by Mike de Leon (1999) – This film is perhaps the “Film of the Decade.” A deconstructionist and post modern film, the film received little patronage from the moviegoing public due to its “arty” structure and the very intellectual handling of the material. An investigation on the heroism of Jose Rizal, Bayaning Third World is the director’s answer to a centennial Rizal film that was full of factual errors and shallow historical research. Shot in black and white, the film boldy violates many conventions in filmmaking – temporal and spatial limitations, characters talking directly to the audience, film genres discarded altogether, and black and white photography at the close of the twentieth century. This film is probably the best film to come out of Philippine Cinema since Lino Brocka’s “Orapronobis.”

Favorite Filipino Films from the 80’s

As I was ending one of my classes in Humanities I (Art Appreciation), I had a rather spirited conversation with some of my students regarding local films, particularly of the 80’s. Of course, this decade was embraced by a dose of really monumental works from the country’s acclaimed filmmakers. Yet, this was also a time of severe commercialism in film, so much so that in 1987, a notable group of film critics refused to give out the usual yearly citations and recognitions for the simple reason that there were no deserving nominees, much more winners.

Back to my class. I ended up recommending a few films from the 80’s to some students who looked really interested. Though I may not be as helpful in looking for the actual copies of these films, I believe that somehow, I was able to enhance their knowledge on Philippine Cinema especially its rich and checkered history. These kids practically grew up in a national cinema that featured dizzying close ups of matinee idols and Fil Ams who probably know nothing but wooden acting. Thank heavens for the indie revolution!

Let me share my personal list of notable films from the 80’s, and just a few reasons why I particularly liked each film.

1. Bona by Lino Brocka – This film is just shimmering with raw humanity. Actress Nora Aunor reveals yet another layer of her acting chops in this film about a slum girl who is obsessed with a movie bit player. Despite numerous technical flaws, the film features topnatch acting and restrained melodrama from the country’s most prominent director.

2. Manila by Night by Ishamel Bernal – This cyclical film from Ishmael Bernal features a cast of sleezy and weird characters from Manila’s underbelly. A film devoid of hope and clean cut morality, it is very interesting how the city of Manila becomes a character in itself, as it seduces, traps, confronts, and eats its own children. While the sex scenes can still be shortened, the real gift of this film is its director, who also happens to be the film’s writer. Bernal here dramatizes his personal tribute to a city so beautiful yet so horribe at the same time.

3. Kisapmata (In The Blink of An Eye) by Mike de Leon – This political film is probably Mike de Leon’s best. He gets everything right in this film – the mood, the acting, the cinematography, the music, everything! This shocking film is probably one of my favorites. It’s just timeless!

4. Salome by Laurice Guillen- The Filipino version of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, the film features a career crowning performance from Gina Alajar and a thespic zenith for its director. The film focuses on the subjectivity of truth, as a housewife is tried for the murder of a cityboy. Issues of rape,adultery,unfaithfulness all come to play in a town plagued by gossip mongers. Watch out for the ending as it truly is poetic and unforgettable.

5. Batch ’81 by Mike de Leon – Another political film from Mike de Leon. It uses the college fraternity as a microcosm of a society suffering under a fascist regime, where acts of violence and inhumanity are disguised amid the lofty ideals of order, unity, and brotherhoood. The fight scenes in this film are just unforgettable, not to mention the highly symbolic production numbers from the three fraternities towards the final third of the film.

6. Himala (Miracle) by ishmael Bernal – This rather philosophical film focuses on religion as the new opiate of the masses. It tells the story of how a woman manages to fool an entire provincial village plagued by drought on how the Virgin Mary appeared to her. Actress Nora Aunor is again at the top of her game and she is backed by an equally spectacular supporting cast. It is also impressive how Bernal uses the location to effectively communicate and enrich the audience’s viewing experience. Though slow and dead-serious in many parts, the film is truly one of Philippine Cinema’s best.

7. Oro, Plata, Mata by Peque Gallaga – This epic film tells the story of two families and how the Japanese occupation left scathing wounds of war and psychological turmoil in their lives. The production design in this film is just superb. Jose Javier Reyes’ screenplay is also keenly observant. Truly, all of Gallaga’s succeeding works seemed inferior to this masterpiece.

8. ‘Merika by Gil Portes – This melancholic film is truly one from the heart. It is an early indictment of the American Dream and how it has affected the lives of Filipinos who have dreamt all their lives to reach the United States. This quiet but moving film is gifted with notable performances from Nora Aunor as the lonely nurse and Bembol Roco as her opportunistic suitor. The cinematography and production design are also commendable. The music underscores feelings of loneliness, nostalgia,and  desperation.

9. Paradise Inn by Celso Ad Castillo – This film is another production that mirrors the nation’s sociopolitical climate during the turbulent 80’s. Despite lopsided scripting and overscoring, the film manages to succeed thanks to memorable performances from Lolita Rodriguez and Vivian Velez, who play mother and daughter who are managing a sleezy bar cum brothel in the midst of a politically charged provincial town. This film uses subtle yet powerful images that call for revolution against a repressive regime. This film came out in December of 1985 — 2 months before the EDSA Revolution that toppled the dictatorship.

10. Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (Lend Me One Morning) by ishmael Bernal – A tearjerker through and through, this melodrama, thankfully, is not devoid of great acting from Vilma Santos, who plays a dying working mom trying to make sense of her life that is about to come to an end. Apart from Santos’ noteworthy performance, the film also features powerful images of life and death, body and would-be-spirit, while at the same time channeling the commercialist workings of melodramas in the Philippines.

BONA: Truly one of Brocka’s best

I was pretty lucky last night during my channel surfing. Mainstream Philippine television seems to offer nothing but sick melodramatic and long-winded stories of young stars in superhero costumes, diva ensembles, and depictions of pathetic beings from fantastic and ridiculous places. But, and the big but is, cable offers a lot of much needed alternatives!

For one, Cinemaone, the cable channel that showcases Filipinop films, has an outstanding Lino Brocka film on their primetime programming last night. A 1980 film that is, though flawed technically, is truly compelling and affecting.

Bona is one of Brocka’s films that was showcased in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival – the olympics of world cinema. Though not in competition, watching the film will convince the viewer why the French truly obsessed with THE Lino Brocka — and why Nora Aunor, in spite of her colorful life, remains to be one of the Philippines’ true thespians.

Bona is the story of a slum girl, played by Nora Aunor, a hopeless fanatic. However, she is not obsessed with a superstar but with Gardo, a bit player, a movie “extra” so to speak, portrayed by Phillip Salvador.

Truly obsessed as Bona was, she would attend to the myriad needs of her “master” everyday – cooking for him, washing his clothes, cleaning his house, helping him take a bath – and in one moment of weakness, even offering herself to her master which she has come to regard as the hub of her life.But Bona’s devotion is never really acknowledged by Gardo, as he continually treats Bona like a slave, even bringing home other women.

Bona’s dreams, bound to be shattered in from the star, ends with the disillusioned fanatic dousing boiling water on her abusive master.

This really affecting psychological film has, as its main strength, the brilliant acting of Aunor and Salvador. It is very convenient to go the easy way and make caricatures out of their characters, but Aunor and even better – Salavdor, envelope their roles with very human qualities and a rare depth. Hence, it is in the acting that the film is able to0 achieve its goal, sans the bad cinematography and sound, misplaced scoring, and haphazard editing.Whiel not technically assured as Brocka’s “Maynila”, the film succeeds in communicating insightful statements as it is very intelligent, not to mention very Filipino.

All in all, Bona is an affecting film about the Filipino’s blind fanaticism, the poverty and subhuman conditions that has rendered the fanatic to be immersed in an escapist universe of silly dreams, blind servitude, and irrational obsessions – with often tragic results.