Monday, May 7, 2012
After two-weeks of shooting on location in the island province of Tawi-Tawi in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Brillante Mendoza, Cannes Best Director for 2009, has just completed principal photography of his latest film "Thy Womb," co-produced with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and starring Nora Aunor.
"Thy Womb" deals with the struggles of a Badjao widwife played by Aunor and deals with “an intriguing tale of love adrift with an unsettling question [on] how to sustain a life struck between the devil of passion and the deep blue sea of tradition?”
Nora Aunor flew to Tawi-Tawi on April 14 and was joined by other cast-members Lovi Poe, Bembol Roco, and Mercedes Cabral. The shoot brought them to the island-towns of Bongao, Sitangkai and Taganak where they were warmly welcomed by local residents who were obviously movie fans.
Despite lingering security issues that have put the province in the spotlight recently, the cast and crew did not encounter any problems, thanks to the security provided by local authorities. They were happy to report, in fact, that everything went smoothly and that they are grateful for the warm hospitality extended to them.
"Thy Womb" will have its premier during the Sineng Pambasa - National Film Festival organized by the FDCP to be held in Davao in June,
BY NESTOR CUARTERO
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation
May 6, 2012
ONE MORE FOR NATIONAL ARTIST: At no other time in the history of the search for National Artists has it happened that even the country’s House of Representatives has been embroiled in a controversy over who should win the title first.
Should it be Nora Aunor or her longtime arch rival, Vilma Santos?
The controversy was triggered by Rep. Anthony Golez’s (Bacolod) filing a resolution to declare Aunor as a National Artist owing to her stellar track record as an actor, singer, film producer.
Golez’s move was countered by another representative, Lorenzo Tanada III (Quezon), who claimed Batangas Governor Vilma Santos-Recto, whose history of achievements is similarly impressive, was just as deserving to be named as such. This was followed by a similar endorsement made more recently by 18 women representatives who also urged Malacañang to name Nora as a National Artist for film.
The ensuing interplay of opinions has attracted various reactions from as many groups. Comes now a college teachers’ group called BALATCA, or the Batangas-Laguna Association of Teachers of Culture and the Arts, which recently issued Resolution No. 2011-001 read as
“A Petition to the National Council on Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines to declare Miss Nora Aunor, international film and stage actress, singer, radio and TV performer, as National Artist.”
• • •
ART AND CULTURE TEACHERS’ RESOLUTION: The 30-member BALATCA, some of whose leaders are winners of Metro Bank Outstanding Teachers Award, has come up with a capsule of Aunor’s achievements, justifying their choice.
Following are excerpts from BALATCA’s resolution:
• WHEREAS, NORA AUNOR, named as the country’s one and only Superstar and highly regarded as a living legend as an actress and singer in local show business for more than 40 years now, attests her myriad talent and versatility as a performer by winning a total of 203 awards and citations – 5 International Film Festival Best Actress, 7 FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts & Sciences), 8 URIAN (Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino), 8 STAR (Philippine Movie Press Club), 5 FAP (Film Academy of the Philippines), 3 CMMA ( Catholic Mass Media Awards), 10 MMFF (Metro Manila Film Festival, 1 from Manila Film Festival), 4 YCC (Young Critics Circle), 15 from other subsidiary award giving bodies, 9 International Film Citations; 11 TV Industry, 23 Music Industry, 63 Entertainment Industry and 20 Government & Other Educational Institutions awards; and 20 Special Citations;
• WHEREAS, Ms. Aunor’s achievements in local show business as the First and Truly Genuine MULTI-MEDIA artist on radio, television, movies, music, and stage who has risen from and was nurtured by the bosom of the Filipino masses, have been unparalleled from her very humble beginnings as a train water vendor, then as the Grand Champion of television’s Darigold Jamboree and Tawag ng Tanghalan singing contests, and as today’s Philippine Greatest Actress according to the late National Artists Lino Brocka and Lamberto Avellana;
• WHEREAS, Ms. Aunor has made local television history in “Superstar” which has become the longest running TV show ever for having 22-uninterrupted-year broadcast; and she has made a filmography of 177 films and a discography of 45 albums and 238 singles;
• WHEREAS, owing to her great contribution to the advancement of her art and because of the masses from whence she came, Ms. Aunor has been honored by various civic and cultural organizations foremost of which are the Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honor for the Arts: One of the 100 Outstanding Filipino Artists in the Film and Broadcast Arts in 1999, Diamond Anniversary of Philippine Cinema (Under Proclamation No. 448 by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos) Philippine Cinema Greats Roll of Honor (1919-1994) in 1995; the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in Nations Service) Awards in 1983, Filipino-American Community of Florida USA Jacksonville Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Development of Filipino Culture in 1993, Office of the President Parangal ng Bayan Grand Achievement Award in 1995, City of Manila Araw ng Maynila Award “Pagkilala sa Larangan ng Sining Sa Pagganap” in 1995, Office of the President Parangal ng Bayan Special International Citation Award for being the first Filipina to win an International Best Actress Award in Cairo International Film Festival in Egypt in 1995, Philippine Association of Teachers of Culture and Arts Par Excellence Award in 1996, Film Development Foundation of the Philippines Haligi ng Industriya Award in 1997, National Centennial Commision Gawad Sentenaryo: Sektor ng Kababaihan, Sining at Kalinangan in 1999, and Batangas-Laguna Association of Culture & the Arts’ Dakilang Kayumanggi ng Lahi for Films in 2005; and Manila Bulletin 110th Anniversary citations as one of the 110 World-Class Filipinos together with Dr. Jose Rizal, Cory & Ninoy Aquino, heroes and national artists in 2010.
• • •
OUTSTANDING TEACHERS: BALATCA is headed by its president, Agapita A. Nery, a Metrobank Oustanding Teacher awardee in 2002. BALATCA aims to propagate and preserve culture and the arts by promoting a culture of excellence in films, drama, literature, musical compositions, and non-verbal art forms such as dances and the visual arts.
Organized in 2004, it hands out the annual award, Dakilang Kayumanggi ng Lahi, to outstanding Filipinos who have made their mark in various fields of art. Among those who have been conferred the award are Nora Aunor, National Artists F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido Lumbera, Lea Salonga and Dolphy.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
How The Lowly Morenita From Iriga Rose To Become Superstar Nora Aunor
By QUIJANO DE MANILA
PHILIPPINE FREE PRESS
July 11, 1970
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a little girl who seemed to have been born under a very unlucky star.
She was born small and weak, a sickly baby. Again and again she would shake with convulsions and fix her eyes in a dying stare. One night, soon after she was born, she fell so ill, burning with fevers and shaking with chills, that her mother rushed her to church and had her baptized in a hurry, late in the night.
“My baby won’t live,” cried the poor mother.
The baby was christened Nora.
All through childhood, little Nora Villamayor, the fourth of five children, continued to be very frail of health. She was always having those chills and fevers and spasms. The physicians couldn’t cure her. So, her parents consulted herb healers and village medicine men. “A bad wind got into your child,” said the witch doctors. But their magics couldn’t cure the ailing little girl either. What she suffered from was the cruel sickness called poverty, a disease endemic in her country. There’s no medicine for that in hospitals or in the witch doctor’s bag.
Nora’s family, the Villamayors, lived in a nipa hut in the Bicol town of Iriga. The two-room hut belonged to the family of Nora’s mother and the Villamayors were only allowed to live there. Nora’s father worked as porter at the railroad station. Until he came home at night with the day’s earnings, his wife couldn’t buy supper for the fmily. There were times when the children went to sleep without eating.
When she was seven years old, Nora went through a crisis. She had her most severe fit: fearful convulsions during which she coughed up blood and turned up her eyes in agony. Her parents thought it was the end. But Nora passed the crisis and, from then on, suffered no more fits. She became healthier. It looked as if the poor, thin, homely child had, after all, a fairy godmother to take care of her. It must be funny sort of fairy godmother because when this fairy godmother grants a blessing she always mixes a heap of trouble with the good fortune.
Little Nora loved school, even if the other children teased her about her dark completion. “Negra, Negra, NoraNegra!” they chanted. But Nora showed them by winning first honors year after year, from first to fifth grade. She played house with the girls, marbles with the boys. But what she liked to do best of all was play school. She would gather the tots in her neighborhood and make them sit in rows like in school. Then she taught them like the teachers did in school. “When I grow up,” she told herself, “I’ll be a teacher.”
Her eldest brother had joined the army and was stationed at Nichols. “Send Nora here,” he wrote his parents, “andshe can study at the camp school and stay with Auntie Belen. I’ll take care of her expenses.”
Auntie Belen, a sister of Nora’s mother, agreed to board Nora. So, during Grade III, Nora stayed with the Aunors, her auntie’s family. Then her brother was transferred to Batangas and Nora went back to Iriga. She had had a year of city life.
In the sixth grade Nora did not win first honors. She had become a movie fan, especially of Susan Roces movies, and a pop-music addict, especially of TimiYuro songs. Now, from the time she woke up in the morning, she was singing. And all day longshe was singing – or so it seemed to her family. When she went on to high school she was thinking she wanted to be a lawyer. Though they were so poor, her father and mother were determined that their children should have at least a high school education. “It’s all we can give you,” they told their children. But, often, they didn’t know where to get money for fees.
Nora was in first year high when there was this problem about the tuition for her elder sister, who was in fourth year.
“Mamay,” said Nora to her mother, “they’re having the Darigold Jamboree in Naga. I could go there and join the contest. If I win, there would be money for Ate’s tuition.”
“But what would you wear, child? All the contestants will be dressed up.”
“Maybe any dress will do.”
“No, child – but I know what we can do.”
Nora’s mother bought a second-hand dress. She remodeled it to Nora’s figure and added frills. A family friend was persuaded to take Nora along to Naga. Nora felt very little when she saw the other contestants. They were all grown-up, good-looking and well dressed. She was the only child, just 12 years old, and wearing a second-hand dress. The crowd looked very big. But she thought of the money needed at home and she forced herself to be brave as she went onstage to face her first real public. The she sang was You and the Night and the Music.
The contest was being broadcast all over Bicolandia. Nora’s family didn’t have radio, but they went to a neighbor’s house to listen to the radio there. They felt tense and nervous. Then they heard Nora being proclaimed the winner. Nora’s sister jumped with joy. Late that night Nora arrived and gave her mother the twenty pesos that was her prize. It was exactly the amount needed for her sister’s tuition.
Nora’s win didn’t change her life. She didn’t turn into a swan overnight. Indeed her success in Naga only sharpened the gibes in Iriga at the ugly duckling.
One night it was long past suppertime but Nora’s father still hadn’t arrived with the money for supper. Nora’s mother asked her elder children to see if they could get rice on credit from one of the neighborhood stores. The elder children said they were ashamed to ask for credit when the family was already so in debt to those stores. Their mother scolded them but they said they would rather go hungry. Everybody was shouting or crying. “I’ll go, Mamay,” said Nora, just to bring on peace.
The first store she went to was being minded at the moment by the storekeeper’s daughter.
“Why, it’s Nora. What do you want, Nora?”
Nora said could they please give her some rice on credit.
“Credit again! Your family owes us so much already. No more credit. Why don’t you go to Naga and sing in another contest. Maybe you’ll win again and have the money to pay us.”
Nora walked away cringing with shame.
At the next store the jeers were even cruder.
“Oh, look who’s coming. Negra, Nora Negra! Have you come to show off your skill in singing, Nora?”
Nora said no, she had come for some rice, please on credit.
“Oh, so you have come to ask for credit again. And we thought you were going to brag about your winning in Naga. Sorry, Nora, no credit. You sing somewhere else.”
Poor Nora was on the point of tears.
At the third store, after much pleading, she was given rice on credit. Hurrying home, she stumbled and fell, and spilled some of the rice. When she reached home, her mother scuffed and pinched her for spilling the rice. The weeping child wondered if her win in Naga was to bring nothing but hurts.
But when the Liberty Big Show was held in Naga, Nora was there again, as contestant. And again she won over the field.
THAT DECEMBER, Nora’s mother was at Nichols, visiting with her sister and their mother. One night they were watching an amateur contest on TV. They fell to talking about Nora’s two wins in Naga. Maybe Nora should come to Manila and try out for one of the radio or TV singing contests, said Belen Aunor. But her soldier husband said that would mean a lot of expenses; the money were better spent on the child’s education. Just the same, the three women – the two sisters and their mother – secretly arranged to bring Nora to Nichols.
It was Christmas vacation when Nora came to Manila. Her mother didn’t feel up to taking her around to the studios; so her Auntie Belen offered to accompany Nora while she applied for auditions. Her aunt would pose as her mother or guardian and introduce her as Nora Aunor. Nora herself didn’t want to use her real name. “Because I might flop in Manila,” she said, “and that would be embarrassing after I had been a winner in Naga.”
Nora was accepted as contestant on the Darigold Bulilit Show. Nora won her first week out and she stayed undefeated champion week after week. This posed a problem. The Christmas vacation was over; she had to go back to school in Iriga. Her Auntie Belen proposed that Nora be transferred to a school in Manila, so she could stay with the Bulilit Show. Nora’s mother went back to Iriga to arrange the school transfer. Nora was enrolled at Centro Escolar. She would study there for three years but her high-school credits are still incomplete.
Nora topped the Darigold Bulilit for 14 weeks. Then she retired undefeated champion.
Three weeks on Bulilit were invaluable to Nora. Pianist Romy San Mateo saw that here was talent and he took time out to train the little girl in diction, timing, gesture, expression, and the proper choice of songs. He had an apt pupil.
The next goal was Tawag ng Tanghalan. For amateur singers, that’s the Big Spot. Nora wasn’t too nervous the first time she competed on Tawag. If she won, good. If not, she wouldn’t really lost anything. She won first prize. But the following week she got the jitters. Now she was the champion, now she had something to loose. When she went on to sing, she stuttered from nervousness. She got a line wrong. She lost.
This was when Nora showed she had the makings of a champion. She had been knocked out but she refused to stay down. She was determined to go back on Tawag and win again. She rehearsed song after song, her Auntie Belen accompanying her on the guitar. She worked on her enunciation. She sang for free anywhere she was asked, to gain stage experience and conquer her fear of crowds and audiences. When she felt she was ready she applied again on Tawag. And she was given another chance.
Her mother came to Manila and sewed her a new dress, for second try on Tawag. Already she was a bit known as the poor little girl from the masses whose father was a porter, whose family was so hard up, whose childhood had been so grim. The poor folk, the common folk, crowded around the radio and TV that night their little girl sang – and she sang to them and about them. She sang People. Nora was singing of her own kind: all the poor people who have nothing but each other. So they need one another and that’s why they’re really lucky people and very special persons. They know that the opposite of love is not hate but loneliness. When Nora sang, a number of people felt less lonely. They had Nora.
It wasn’t just an amateur contest that Nora won that night; she won people.
Nora was a 14–week winner on Tawag, an undefeated champion. And she crowned her career on Tawag by topping the grand finals. She bagged the year’s trophy, a TV set, and 200 pesos in cash.
The child said good-bye to amateur. It was 1967, she was 14, when she turned professional. From Tawag she moved on to Oras ng Ligaya and Operatang Putol-Putol. Her influences ranged from Streisand to Nancy Wilson, but a Nora style was developing. Whether belting out a hot number or crooning a kundiman, the Aunor voice identified itself by a certain huskiness of tone, quite remarkable in so young a girl. The Aunor voice has never been particularly young-girlish. Even at 14, when she pitched it low, the effect was of smoky torch. Her teen-age fans say that what they like about Nora’s voice is that “it can do anything, wild or sweet.” But it’s in the heartbreak songs that the throat really come through – and she sound is all woman. Nora says she feels most like singing when she’s singing a ballad.
Alpha Records took a chance on the young singer and waxed the first Nora disc. It flopped. Alpha tried again and the second Nora recording did better. Since then, Nora’s Golden Voice LPs have been runaway best-sellers.
Friday, May 4, 2012
An Interesting Film Showcasing the Igorot Tribe and How the Banaue Rice Terraces Came To Be
BY JENNIFER LAPIS
Though it doesn’t really show how the rice terraces were formed, how the idea started was conveyed through the tribe and their leader. You might even think that since Nora Aunor’s character is named Banaue, the rice terraces was named after her.
The characters were portrayed in a way they were before, complete with their costumes of the ‘bahag’ for men and being topless for the women. Even the personalities of the characters were accurate, with the men being brutal with each other and to their women.
Speaking of brutality, this film shows how it was during those times. All the raw and obscene details were shown, from the numerous beheading of the tribes people to the way the men hurt and treated the women. It showed how it really was before when there was already a system yet the people were not as civilized as today. In one moment, the leader of the other tribe would whip at Banaue. Immediately after, he would kiss and make love to her passionately.
Banaue’s character was very well-defined, a strong woman who is also passionate about her lover and her love for the tribe. Showing the romance that blossoms between her and Sadek (played by Christopher de Leon), the film expresses how one feels for the other, through the difficulties and challenges that they go through.
The acting of the cast was commendable and I really praise the crew, writers and director for making this film a beautiful yet dramatic film. A blast from the past, it can also teach you how our ancestors were during the time of the making of the Banaue Rice Terraces. Definitely a movie that a chosen few will be able to enjoy.
BONA: MARTYR OR MONSTER
BY: NOEL VERA
(Please note: plot discussed in close detail)
Lino Brocka's Bona is possibly the least-seen of his major works, partly because the two remaining good prints of the picture had been squirreled away abroad (to the Cinematheque Francais and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art), while Filipinos back home had to content themselves with fading recollections and equally faded Betamax tapes. Everyone remembers how powerful the film was; no one can rightly say they've actually seen it, at least in recent years.
It's exciting news to learn that Cinema One with the help of the Cinematheque is broadcasting a clear new video copy of Bona , one with French subtitles. For a new generation of viewers--one barely able to recognize the name of Brocka--this is a chance to finally see a famed classic; for those who remember the film from its Metro Manila Film Festival run this is a chance to update (and possibly destroy--but that's the risk of any revival) their Beta-assisted memories with freshly minted images. Whichever you are, veteran or innocent, even twenty-six years later there's much in the film that can still shock and appall.
To know more about Bona the film it's helpful to know a little about "Bona," the episode that debuted on the TV drama anthology Babae(Woman), with Laurice Guillen as Bona and Ruel Vernal as the actor she has an affair with. Brocka in a 1981 interview with Agustin Sotto describes the TV drama as a "first love affair" that the girl enjoyed so much she starts following the man around; the film on the other hand is "a case study of a social phenomenon…an 18-year-old girl who gives up everything--her boyfriend, her family--for her movie idol." Guillen, the actress who Brocka called his "Jeanne Moreau" (meaning, presumably, that she would play the neurotic types) said she could "relate to it…like Bona, I felt so exploited in what I felt was a one-sided relationship."
Translating the drama to the big screen, Brocka made some fundamental and quite fascinating changes--the casting of Nora, for one, as Bona. Aunor, famous for being the first Filipina actress with brown skin and small stature to become a movie star, is equally famous for playing countryside maidens, domestic helpers, laundry women, water carriers--humble figures her millions of fans could identify with, and whose eventual rise to fame and fortune they could celebrate. The course of Bona's fate runs backwards--she's the daughter of a middle-class family. If she shines shoes and cooks food and cleans house, it's because she chooses to; she elects to leave her family and humble herself for her movie idol. As Brocka put it, referring to Aunor's own fans: "You will hear them talk about what they have given up. Some have given up their husbands, others a good job…this sacrifice becomes a badge for them."
Of Aunor's stardom Brocka said, "She was the only star I know who could silence a crowd. After the premiere of Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (You Are the Mother of Your Child, 1979), a big crowd waited for her outside the lobby. People were unruly. Her car was being bumped by the crowd. All she did was put a finger on her lips and raise her right hand, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. You could hear a pin drop."  It's typical of Brocka's sensationalist genius, not to mention his sense of mischief, that he take the inspiration for such fanaticism and make her play someone capable of the same fanaticism; when the fans sat down to watch their heroine, this time they found themselves in the shoes of an altogether darker character, capable of extremes of cruelty and violence, a warped reflection of themselves.
The opening sequence, filmed during the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, right away establishes the similarity between movie-star worship and religious worship. Brocka's camera is poised from high up--from a godlike vantage point--looking down on the sea of faces surrounding the statue; he captures footage of men and women tossing towels at the statue, hoping attendants will pick up the towels, touch the Nazarene and toss it back to them (the dark wooden statue is said to have miraculous powers). The sequence has the crudity of a documentary, or a news segment, and seems all the more real for it. At a certain point, the camera catches Bona watching the parade go by; a cut and Bona is in the same pose but her hair is different--she's at a studio shoot, facing a different idol for adoration.
Early on Brocka establishes how lowly Gardo, Bona's movie actor, is. Gardo is a bit player who has dabbled in everything from song-and-dance to softcore porn, all with little success. Fans complained about having Aunor's character admire such a small-time loser, but Brocka points out that "if she had been adoring a superstar like herself, she would be surrounded by so many fans that her own personal drama would be obscured…"  More, a multitude of fans would imply a support group, other people sharing in her fixation, lessening the burden of loneliness and alienation from the world. Bona's choice of worship isn't all that unusual, actually--Adele Hugo in Francois Truffaut's L'Histoire d'Adele H. attached herself to a junior officer, to his and her mutual ruin; Catherine Sloper was ready to give up everything for her low-life paramour in Henry James' Washington Square. With certain pathological types the object of obsession's impeccability matters less than the invincibility of said obsession.
Gardo as played by Philip Salvador is a vain, self-centered, immature man; he's also a drunkard, a womanizer, a brawler, and a braggart. When Bona moves in with him he accepts her services eagerly, when she makes the slightest complaint he slaps her, and when she poses the least inconvenience he tosses her aside--not once, but twice. When Gardo takes advantage of Bona's willingness to serve him hand and foot he does with all the careless eagerness of a child, voice and face cheerful as if he were saying: "Isn't this fun? Don't you wish we could always be like this?" What's so fascinating about Brocka's direction of Salvador is Brocka's willingness to "play into type"--to show Gardo's character embodying not just every cliché about narcissistic actors, but also every unflattering gossip said against Salvador himself. Brocka either flirts dangerously with the rumors or simply doesn't care who notices: he poses Salvador in various stages of undress against light and shadow, the better to show off his smooth muscles and noble profile. Ruel Vernal, who originated the role in television, is an excellent enough actor that he can play a handsome cad and still be charming, even worthy of our sympathy (as he does to wonderful effect in Brocka's 1976 Insiang), but Vernal also gives off a powerful macho vibe--he's like a Filipino Clark Gable constantly on the prowl. Salvador as he appears in the film version is prettier, more delicate, a petulant child in need of care--care that Bona is willing to give Gardo in terms of the film's story, and Brocka is willing to give Salvador in terms of the film's making. The parallels between Gardo and Salvador, between Bona and Brocka (even their names sound similar) are unavoidable.
It's a hideously unsparing portrait and Salvador must be given his due for agreeing to play such a character; he must have had some idea of how people would react and how closely they would compare his real self to his reel self, yet there he is on the big screen, giving himself over completely to the role. Salvador is not a skilled actor--I think some of his best performances came about mainly because Brocka takes such extraordinary care of him--but here he achieves the honesty of a confessional, of self-revelation. His vanities and insecurities as an actor come pouring out of him as if through hypnotic therapy (onscreen they are passed off as drunken tirades); his neediness--his greed for constant attention, approval, adoration--is so great any possibility of admiring the man is swept aside by an overwhelming sense of contempt. What intensifies this quality in the performance is the sense you have that Brocka is confessing as well, admitting his foolishness in being so utterly taken in by a pretty face; you might say that this film is his way of seeking maybe not revenge, but resolution.
Which brings us to Aunor, and if Salvador is an actor by director's fiat (careful choice of appropriate roles, even more careful framing and lighting of the actor for maximum beauty and dramatic impact) Aunor is an actress almost despite the director. Brocka uses the opposite approach with her that he uses on Salvador--no glamour shots with thick gels or careful lighting, no easy scenes with paint-by-numbers emotions. Brocka uses long takes for crucial moments and in those takes she's often the focus, the fulcrum, around which the scene's complicated emotional scheme turns; even when her fellow actor looms larger on the screen, or is favored by the camera's position, she dominates the scene.
The story is familiar to most Filipinos, and for those not familiar, it's easy enough to follow: Bona attends Gardo's shoots, often bringing him soda and a snack (at one point we see the origin of Bona's fixation--an autographed picture of Gardo that he in all probability wished he never gave her). One night she is accompanying Gardo when he is beaten up; she takes him to his house and nurses him back to health. When she returns home she's whipped by her father (Venchito Galvez) for disappearing without a word; she leaves her family and informs Gardo she's moving in with him. Bona does everything for Gardo--the cooking, the cleaning, the fetching of water (a detail which must have tickled fans--Aunor was a water seller in the province of Iriga before she became famous); she even sells bottles in a cart for housekeeping money, and asks for credit from the grocery when money is short.
Early on Brocka establishes the crucial scene where Bona has to boil water and mix it with tap water for Gardo to bathe in; the image--a grown man washed by a grown woman--inspires thoughts of infantilism. Recall that after Gardo had been beaten he had looked up at Bona and, delirious, mistaken her for his mother; on several other occasions when Bona tucks him into bed drunk he talks to her as if she was his mother, speaking in a slurred, petulant voice. Gardo with Bona often regresses into a childlike state where he demands to be pampered and spoiled; Bona, being fixated on Gardo, readily agrees to his demands.
It's an oddly chaste situation--odd especially as Laurice Guillen in the TV version lost her virginity to Vernal right off--and all the more authentically perverse for its chastity. An infant is a sexual being, but the sexuality is focused more on the skin (warm bathing water) and mouth (food, drink) than on the genitals (undeveloped in a baby). This film's Bona, presumably a virgin, would know little about genital sex; she readily fulfills Gardo's demands for food and warm water, but is helpless when it comes to his two fiercest needs--for strong drink (which he slakes at the nearest nightclub bar) and for adult sex (which he sates through practically every pretty woman he meets).
Midway through Brocka gives us a shot of a fully awake and standing Gardo looking down on Bona, asleep under the mosquito net; this reversal is so startling we see it instantly for what it is: Gardo has finally come to see Bona as a sexual being. It isn't a complete reversal, of course; this still has to be all about Gardo and his pleasures. He wakes Bona and demands to be massaged; presumably he believes that the experience of spreading oil onto his naked body will be enough to arouse Bona, convince her to give in to him.
He grabs her by the wrist. Brocka cuts to a shot of Bona's face, and the expression is strangely familiar--it's the same expression Aunor had with Lito Lapid in Mario O'Hara's Kastilyong Buhangin (Castle of Sand, 1980), an expression she wears when some needy man comes to her, asking for sex. It's the expression of a woman wise not in matters sexual, but in the ways of the world and of her own body as she debates with herself: "making love to this man is not the smart thing to do…but I'm tired of always knowing the smart thing to do (or, in Bona's case "tired of not knowing what to do"). In any case, I wantto do this."
The punchline comes the next morning, when Bona prepares Gardo's breakfast. Bona is guarded, wary, alert for any change to come over Gardo. Nothing--he's his usual cheerfully self-absorbed self. Gardo has gotten away with it again; Bona for all her intelligence has outsmarted herself, given away what most Filipinas consider their most valuable asset--their virtue--for practically nothing.
Or has she? More on that thought later…
Brocka is a master at sketching social hierarchies, and Bona contains fine examples of his skill. Bona, constantly following in Gardo's wake, meets the different people in his life, and constantly tests herself against them--establishing pecking order, in effect. When Bona sees Gardo and a woman walk into a motel room, the next day Bona shoves the woman into water; when Gardo brings a woman home for the night, the next day Bona chases the woman out with a broom--and is promptly slapped down by Gardo, who informs her that he'll bring home anyone he chooses. Order established--the girlfriends, then Bona, then Gardo above all. When she meets Nilo (Nanding Josef), who is clearly in love with her, she feels nothing but contempt--in the scene where Nilo confesses his love for Bona, Brocka frames the two with Nilo behind Bona, and Bona refusing to look at his face. As far as Bona's concerned, Nilo occupies the ladder rung below her--the only possible position for someone foolish enough to love unreservedly (someone, in effect, much like herself).
Interestingly, Nilo is the only one who is able to free himself from Bona's influence (more on this later): taking Bona's advice to heart about seeking other women, he informs her (in a scene where they stand side-by-side, Nilo's bulk overshadowing Bona's slight build within the camera frame) that he's getting married. It's an odd moment: Bona seems to acknowledge Nilo's risen status by confiding a dream she has, an eerie apocalyptic dream where everyone is burning, and she is wrapped in fire. Brocka makes no attempt to visualize the dream, but he does wrap Aunor in the orange glow of a Manila Bay sunset.
Bona's relationship with her family is a thornier issue: she loves her mother and her mother loves her; that much we know. Her mother makes demands at first ("Come back now, and forget Gardo"), qualifies them ("Come back anytime, but you must forget Gardo"), eventually finds her power to compel her daughter home taken almost completely out of her hands ("Come back, but don't let your older brother (Spanky Manikan) see you, or he'll kill you."). The father throws Bona out, finds out where she's staying, attempts to drag her back home; Bona tries to defy him both times, but only the second time does she succeed, and only thanks to a plot twist (a heart attack, conveniently timed--or was it?).
Now is as good a time as any to note the contribution of the great Conrado Baltazar, who gave films like Insiang (1976) and Jaguar(1979) their inimitably squalid look, and Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos(Three Years Without God, 1976) its at times stylized lyricism. Baltazar gets deeper shadows and harsher glares out of an incandescent bulb (the lighting of choice of Manila squatter shanties in the '70s) than almost any other cinematographer I can think of; he knows how to bring out the muddy details of a sewage-choked canal or a trash-strewn street so that you can practically smell the stench. Brocka, trusting in Baltazar to achieve what he needs, focuses on the blocking and performances of his actors. The words "stagy" and "theaterbound" often have unflattering connotations, but Brocka uses his theater training to locate his actors effectively within the frame, in a way that develops his "pecking order" theme--who is dominant, who is submissive, whose status is ascending, whose is descending. Within Brocka's trademark long takes--the theater proscenium translated to the big screen--you can feel the crisscrossing lines of force as actors enter, struggle, and--win or lose--resolve their conflict.
Or you hear the terrible hiss of energy dissipating, as in the shot where Bona follows Gardo and one of his girlfriends out a bar's back door. The camera pans from bar to nearby motel; Gardo and his girl don't even hesitate--they walk through the motel room door and shut it behind them. Bona is left in the parking lot staring at the door, disco music playing behind her; after a long while you see her climb into a nearby jeep (decorated with the film crew's wrap party banner), presumably to wait out the night, maybe sleep. The pathos of the scene, the unutterable loneliness suggested by Bona's silent back as she faces that door is something few other filmmakers can surpass; I doubt if Brocka ever did, himself.
Often the conflict isn't resolved, or is resolved in a way that achieves only a temporary balance, the hidden instability increasing with time. Crucial to emphasizing this element is Max Jocson's music, particularly his bongo drums. I wondered about those drums and their thrilling tattoo at first, how appropriate they were to what is essentially a melodrama (they sounded like they belonged in an action picture); after awhile my doubts vanished. Jocson's drums signal the presence of tension, of a huge watch-spring being turned round and round until it couldn't possibly be tighter: you waited for the spring either to quickly unwind or to snap, with the resulting catastrophic consequences.
As to the catastrophe's catalyst--much has been written about Gardo's selfishness towards Bona, the wretched way he treats her; I have yet to read anyone mention Bona's effect on Gardo. Bona's devotions hold Gardo back, keep him regressed and childish; while Bona caters to him, Gardo will not learn how to care for himself (one wonders how he managed before he met Bona), he will not control his drinking or womanizing (both of which continually land him in trouble), he will not move beyond the illusion that he is an aspiring star waiting for his big break. Gardo is in a state of stasis; he will not grow up, he does not want to grow up as long as he remains in Bona's heroically patient care.
Enter Katrina (Marissa Delgado, one of Brocka's regular stock players). She is a woman's woman whose figure has developed far beyond Bona's childlike physique. Gardo is in love with her, and she with him; better still, she has money. Gardo and Katrina wake Bona up late one night: he has a gift for her--a birthday gift! Bona sits up, eyes heavy with sleep, but you can tell she is wary--Gardo receivesgifts, he never gives them (Gardo says Katrina chose the gift; presumably, she used her own cash to buy it). Gardo insists that they go out; at the nightclub the camera looks straight at Bona while she peers at Katrina and Gardo on either side of the screen, dancing. She has her hair pulled back, and she's wearing Gardo's gift--a v-cut purple blouse that fits her simplicity perfectly. It's the rare moment where Bona finally manages to look lovely (and Brocka privileges her with a glamour shot), but no one's paying attention; Gardo and Katrina only have eyes for each other.
Later, Gardo, sitting at the kitchen table, gives her the news: he's giving up acting--he loves it but apparently the job doesn't love him; more, he and Katrina are immigrating to America, and Bona has to vacate and go home because he's selling the house. Bona has just come from her father's funeral, where she had been thrown out by her furious elder brother. She has never looked lovelier than she does now, standing at the far wall wearing shoulder-length hair and the dress she had on at the funeral; she has also never looked more threatened. She walks up to Gardo's table (walking up to the camera lens), informs him that her brother threatened to kill her if she ever comes back, and asks what is to become of her. Gardo, thoughtless as usual, has no real answer--a foreground object (he occupies the left side of the screen) with no force, no presence, no ability to resolve the conflict being presented to him. In his mind he's already looking forward to life with Katrina in the United States; Bona is just an annoying unresolved issue here in Manila.
We're not paying attention to Gardo of course; our eyes are fixed on Bona, who says nothing yet is clearly devastated. It's Brocka's cleverest bit of misdirection, I think: by focusing on Bona's anguish we are distracted from a crucial development in Gardo's life--his attainment of a certain kind of maturity, a certain kind of belated adulthood. Katrina has managed to prod Gardo into thinking of others, however briefly (Bona's birthday gift); has helped him realize he must give up useless pursuits (becoming a movie star); has redirected his energies into something ostensibly more productive (immigrating to America).
Why is Katrina's influence so positive and Bona's so negative? Isn't Bona supposed to be the heroine of this film? Looking back, one wonders just how much control Gardo had all along--control which, when you think about it, is actually a function of how much control Bona allowed him to have over herself. You wonder about Bona's wariness the morning after she was deflowered; was she looking for affection from Gardo, some sign from him that he finally regards her as a woman, to be treasured and desired? Or was she looking for signs of change--signs of Gardo's attitude towards her evolving, becoming less childlike, moving away from the stasis she so dearly prized? Was his indifference to what happened the night before a source of disappointment for her, or relief?
With her family it seemed that stronger forces bent Bona this way and that, but when you really think about it, you realize that even then everything was shaped by Bona's decisions--she manages to stay with Gardo and her defiance triggers her father's heart attack. She may be terrified of her older brother but his authority is strictly limited--outside of the house he, unlike their father (who suffers as a consequence), does not try to reach out and pull Bona away from Gardo.
As for Nilo--Nilo seems to be the exception that proves the film's "rules." He loved Bona, but found love elsewhere when she rejected him. Unlike the others, Nilo is willing to adjust, to compromise, and this flexible attitude saves him; you might say of all the characters he's most immune to Bona's "curse."
So--does Bona deserve a radical re-evaluation? Is Bona the real villainess and Gardo her helpless victim? Not necessarily--I still think Gardo is basically selfish and Bona essentially pathetic. But the flow of feeling from people who give and people who take is rarely simple, and never one-way; there is feedback, a series of transactions, interesting vortices of emotions at play here that make the film much more than just a sordid portrait of exploitation and revenge.
I do believe both Brocka and Salvador have revealed something of their relationship as director and actor in this picture--much more than perhaps they themselves intended. And that Aunor channeled the force of their feelings to create a great performance, easily the best she has given for the most famous Filipino director who ever lived.
Bona is a masterpiece of acting, psychology, self-revelation, realist cinema; we study it for its subtleties (of which I think there are many), but finally we experience it as a cathartic drama, an occasion for identification and reflection. Viewing the film, we see uncomfortable reminders of ourselves, by turns exploring and exploiting, seducing and betraying, adoring and abusing. Viewing the film, we realize that we are our own martyrs and monsters.
 Augustin Sotto, "Interview with Lino Brocka on Bona" Lino Brocka, The Artist and His Times, ed. Mario Hernando. Manila, Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1993, p. 234.
 Nestor U. Torre, "Lino Brocka and His Actors: A Question of Trust," Lino Brocka, The Artist and His Times, ed. Mario Hernando. Manila, Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1993, pp. 92-93.
 Augustin Sotto, "Interview with Lino Brocka on Bona" p. 234.
 Ibid, p. 235.
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos: A Love Story
By Noel Vera
Rosario: Nora Aunor
Masugi: Christopher De Leon
Crispin: Bembol Roco
Cion: Yolanda Luna
Andoy: Mario Escudero
Written and directed by Mario O'Hara
Shown (in truncated form) on Skycable's Pinoy Blockbuster Channel, various times.
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God) starts on an ominous note: artillery and fire; corpses swept up by waves onto a beach; war and destruction. A narrator tells us the three years during the Second World War, when the Japanese occupied the country, were "three years when there was no God."
The story proper begins in media res; that is, in the middle of the action. Crispin (Bembol Roco), is at the town school, looking for Rosario (Nora Aunor). He finds her in a little hut in the schoolyard, shaded by trees. Crispin wants to say goodbye to Rosario--the Japanese are coming and he is joining the underground resistance.
This quiet scene is important; in the few minutes they have together, we have to see that Crispin and Rosario love each other deeply, and that Rosario is desolate at seeing him go. Mario O'Hara, Tatlong Taong's writer-director, handles this scene with great restraint: there are no histrionics, no desperate declarations of eternal love.
Rosario is hurt and distant; Crispin tries to be consoling, even when he understands that Rosario is beyond consolation. It's Crispin's understanding that shows the depth of the relationship: they love each other so much they're inside each other's heads. They know, instinctively, what the other is feeling, and (a nice touch by O'Hara) this intimacy is less a source of pleasure than it is a source of acute pain.
The next few scenes are transitory: how Rosario and her family are abandoned by their terrified neighbors; how the Japanese steal their rice and pigs and chickens; how they are reduced to eating roasted sweet potato for their main meal. When Crispin comes again for supplies and for rest, he is a blooded rebel, with friends. He tells Rosario in graphic detail what it feels like to kill a man. Rosario, disturbed, prays that God take care of Crispin--even at the expense of her own safety.
Enter Masugi (Christopher De Leon), and his doctor friend, Francis (Peque Gallaga). Masugi's a half-breed soldier--part Japanese, part Filipino; Francis, it's implied, is a Spanish mestizo. Masugi is lost, and tired. He demands directions, and something alcoholic to drink. Rosario, angry at Masugi's boorish behavior, demands that he leaves. Masugi is attracted to Rosario; being drunk, and being used to the invincible authority of a Japanese officer, he makes a pass at her. Rosario slaps him; insulted, Masugi hits her. Francis holds Rosario's family at gunpoint while Masugi chases her down into the basement and rapes her.
It's a familiar story with wartime Filipinos; the family's young women taken aside by Japanese soldiers and brutally used. When Masugi comes back the next day and makes friendly overtures to Rosario, we're on Rosario's side: how dare he take up where he left off? And how dare he look so sincere about it?
We eventually learn that he is sincere: he helps her family, and he's happy when he learns that she's pregnant. Rosario's family is won over by Masugi's canned goods and rice and his well-meaning attempts to make amends, but Rosario refuses to forgive Masugi. He's not just a rapist, he's Japanese--the personification of everything she, her family, and every wartime Filipino fear and hate. More, Rosario loves Crispin, and any sign of relenting on her part would mean betraying him. Rosario is cornered all around--her hatred of the Japanese in general and Masugi in particular on one side, her growing attraction for Masugi on the other. She's waging--bravely, as she does all things--a one-woman Resistance movement all her own, except she's less and less sure what she should resist.
Sometimes her defiance takes her beyond the boundaries of common humanity. When her father is arrested in a shooting incident and Masugi gets him out, Rosario is angry. She doesn't care if her father is safe; all she knows is that they're even deeper in Masugi's debt. "Not once," she declares when her mother chides her, "did I accept a gift from him." Her mother looks down at her swollen belly and says: "you're lying and you know it. You have something of Masugi's, and you're still keeping it." Rosario blinks, as if slapped in the face.
Rosario's dilemma is similar to what Huck Finn faced near the end of Mark Twain's great classic, Huckleberry Finn, when Huck learns that his friend, Nigger Jim, has been captured and chained. Society taught Huck that it's wrong to free slaves; should he go and free his friend? Should Huck do something clearly wrong--willfully damn himself to hell, in effect--for the sake of friendship, and love? Is Rosario ready to accept a Japanese officer--the conqueror and killer of so many of her people, and the man who raped her?
The fiercest assault on Rosario's resolve comes from an unexpected source. Francis has just helped Rosario given birth; as she lies on bed resting, he sits beside her and talks--just talks. He tells her what kind of man Masugi is--how his parents were killed inside a Filipino prison, how he had to make his way alone across chaotic Manila, to seek safety with Francis. He tells Rosario of how the war has brutalized Masugi, and taught him not to think--simply act and fight, like an animal. Rosario and her child has changed Masugi; can't she open up to him just a little?
I don't know what went into this scene--presumably Gallaga's Tagalog was less than perfect (he is a Bacoleno, and possibly more familiar with Spanish), and O'Hara must have seized upon this limitation and turned it to the scene's advantage. Francis' twisted Tagalog--his helplessly groping, yet determined need to say the right words to Rosario--is what makes the scene heartbreaking. O'Hara has hinted before at the closeness between the two men, but only now, between the awkward pauses in Francis' speech, does the depth of the relationship come through.
Art critic Jolicco Cuadra claims that Francis and Masugi must have been, at one point, lovers. As proof, he offers a scene where the two are urinating: friends look at each others' penises and shyly compare notes; lovers do not--they are already familiar with each other's genitals. It's a fascinating claim, and it fits neatly into the scheme of the film, but ultimately, it's beside the point. Francis and Masugi's love for each other is another variation on the main theme, and whether the love was physically expressed or not isn't half as important as the fact that Francis' love for Masugi moves Rosario, shows her how wrong she is to resist him.
Perhaps Francis's speech was the last straw; perhaps it's the recurrent image of Masugi grinding away on top of her, whispering endearments. But something breaks in Rosario; she feels she has to resolve this conflict the only way possible. The act she proposes is brutal in its logic, extending as it does her line of thinking to its ultimate and terrible conclusion. There must have been a moment, possibly while standing on the stone bridge, when Rosario looked back and saw the steps she took along the way--how valid they seemed at the time, how reasonable and sane--and compared to them, how monstrous the act she is about to do.
And she backs down. She doesn't have the heart--she doesn't have the hate in her--to go through with it. It's ironic that an act of acceptance, of love and forgiveness, can seem craven and cowardly to the one committing it.
Rosario's decision is the turning point of the film; from then on, she is on Masugi's side, and she never wavers, even when she meets Crispin again, even until the end. O'Hara, having taken pains to show us the wrongness of Rosario's defiance, now demonstrates the wrongness of the rest of the world in judging Rosario for her decision. Rosario has done what she felt in her heart was true to her, what O'Hara makes us all feel was true and right and good for her; now we realize exactly what Rosario has done: gone over to the Japanese, married one of their officers--just when they were on the brink of losing the war.
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos is remarkable for what the two halves of its story are able to achieve. In the first half O'Hara pulls us through the looking-glass to the other side. He stops the world on its axis and turns our expectations inside-out and upside-down, showing just how the wrong man--as wrong a man for Rosario as can be--can turn out to be the right one, a loving husband, after all. For the second half, O'Hara performs a simpler, even more amazing act: he allows the world to start rolling again, and lets us watch while it rolls over both Rosario and Masugi.
In The Human Factor, Graham Greene writes that nations don't matter, people do, and that a man's country is his wife and child; with this rationale, the English hero of the novel acts as undercover agent for the Soviet Union, betraying his country for his South African wife and her bastard child. In the novel (and later film of) Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, Count Almasy betrays England for the sake of a woman he loves, an Englishwoman (later, burnt out of all recognition, Almasy with his British accent is mistaken for an Englishman--the "English patient" of the novel's title). All three stories share one element in common, and that's the intensity of our identification with the betraying hero--Maurice in The Human Factor, Count Almasy in The English Patient, Rosario in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. We look at the world through their eyes, and we are made to understand how reasonable their treason seem to them, how they did it for the higher cause of someone or something they cared about. All three seem to say to us: "if you can't do anything--literally anything--for the one person you care about most; if you can't betray your country, your friends, your own self for the sake of the one you love, then your love means nothing, your love is worthless."
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos and its better-known, more literary cousins are subversive in the worse sense. If everyone adopted this kind of thinking as their guiding principle, the world would slide into chaos; espionage would be the primary industry of the world and no one can trust anyone who was capable of any kind of attachment.
There are those, of course, who argue that the world is already in chaos, that espionage is already the world's biggest industry, and that no one should be trusted, ever.
A love story? Why yes, though it may come as a bit of a shock after all the wild flights of philosophy we've been taking: Tatlong Taong Walang Diyosis basically a love story. It's a fiery, flawed, fearless film, reckless and outsized in its quiet intensity, its understated passion. It speaks more eloquently on the nature of love and sacrifice than any hundreds of tepid local and Hollywood equivalents, and it speaks from a mind alarmingly well-informed on the great cruelties--and great love--human beings are capable of. And, (unlike, say, The English Patient) it does so in a plainspoken manner, without resorting to complex time schemes and finely written (meaning almost unreadable) language.
By the film's end Rosario sits alone in a church with no one to turn to, no one to protect her. She once again resorts to prayer, and asks nothing from God except to look after her baby. It's a risky move, a desperate move; she did this once before for Crispin, and as with Crispin, her prayer was paid for by her own pain and suffering. You might call Rosario's the tragic story of a girl whose prayers are always answered; the tragedy lies in the swiftness and brutality with which God answers her prayers. Later, Crispin sits in the same church. He is alive and well, thanks to Rosario, but (again, thanks to Rosario) alone. He asks a priest if there is a God--an old question, but asked in Crispin's sad and bitter voice, a question with an edge.
The priest gives a wise and reassuring reply: that Masugi and Rosario and his love for each other are a sign of God's presence, even in wartime. The reply is a little too pat, a little too well-prepared; it's the kind priests through the years have given to sad and bitter questions. You wonder how just much faith O'Hara puts in that reply.
Then O'Hara gives his own answer, in the form of a blind man lighting a candle for himself and his palsied brother. The blind man carefully picks up the child, and makes his way out the church just when a procession, complete with hundreds of candles and heavily costumed wooden saints, marches in. The symbolism is somewhat obvious--true faith walks quietly out the door, while pomp and pageantry make a grand, meaningless entrance. But the entire wordless scene is so quietly understated, so beautifully shot and staged--a perfect example of the purest cinema--that it literally takes your breath away. Yes, Crispin, there is a God--only he could have inspired O'Hara to shoot a scene like that.