A Review on Bona
By: Ivan Descartin
April 27, 2011
3 times. I have already seen "Bona" 3 times yet its emotional wallop never falters. Beyond its narrative simplicity mainly set in a destitute slums lies the emerging complexity from a character which may seem symbolic rather than true molds from reality at first sight, but whose conflicts, choices and behavioral preferences leads her to the truest form of inescapable existential mishaps that prove to be in touch with the reality of mindless idolatry.
The film opens with the haze of confusion during the 'Feast of the Black Nazarene'. Countless people grabbing the traditional rope, wiping their towels on the black statue and others watching curiously as they converge for an unhindered faith in hopes of blessings. Brocka shot this 'cinema verite' sequence with a great intent to expose the rawness and spontaneity of Filipino culture yet it's also his powerful initial statement to the pseudo-romantic fable that is about to unfold: The worship for something fantastically adamant and emotionally inanimate to even feel it.
The waves of the mob wants the mercy and guidance from the Black Nazarene, Bona wants love from movie bit player Gardo. Religion and romance. Not your typical, close-necked comparison, but I can see where director Lino Brocka is coming from. He wants to show the blinding extent of devotion both from an immense display of it (the feast), its miniature counterpart (Bona's enclosed self-depreciation in the name of 'love'), and even more so, its occasional futility.
Nora Aunor is Bona in one of her most mystifying and logically puzzling characters to date. The narrative never even showed us how she has developed her bizarre infatuation with movie extra Gardo (Phillip Salvador in a role that, as what my review of "Jaguar" states, showcases his acting talent of differentiating transitionally contrasting qualities of a character) and instead started somewhere in the middle. We see Bona do meager things any die-hard fans would do for their idol. She gives him food and drinks and even shelters him with her umbrella during a rain. Her actions were understandable yet the man it was all done to is questionable at best.
We may ask ourselves, what did Bona saw in this man? Is it his stature as a showbiz figure? No, he's merely an extra. Is it his looks? Maybe, but she sees him many times groping with many women. Why bother? That's the ultimate question that came into my mind. It may seem a mundane inquiry, but it is from this that comes the profundity of Brocka's stirring commentary about who Bona may really be: An epitome of a confused woman helplessly testing her ability to dare declare her misguided independence and try her luck and flirt with her idea of loyal love.
Gardo, on the other hand, takes advantage of her innocence and treats her almost as a maid and as his mother's second coming. And finally, after living with each other for a considerable time, Gardo executed his sexual advances, to which Bona welcomed in confusion. The morning after, as she mends the chores, she also consciously hopes to squeeze out love from whatever happened the night before.
This is the sequence where Nora's mark was indelibly left with the power only SHE can muster. After the night of their bodily contact, as Bona prepares Gardo's breakfast, Nora expressed her character's longing, aspirations and expectations for a potential development of a romance through her ever-impressive eyes. As Gardo eats, Bona waits. She's hoping for him to return a bright gaze for her countless pleading glances, but ultimately, there was none. The night was forgotten, after all.
Brocka handled it (story written by Cenen Ramones) without highlighting the glances but instead diluting it through Phillip Salvador's trivial dialogue. Brocka manipulated the screen by letting not just Bona to taste the bitterness of romantic defeat, but also us. We may never know of Bona's motivations to live with such an uncaring man in exchange of her family, but her recurring dream of being entrapped by flames and a moment in the wedding scene (of Bona's friend and former suitor, Nilo, played by Nanding Josef) may have given an answer.
While drinking a beer, as the other people shout "Sayaw, Bona! Sayaw!" ("Dance, Bona! Dance!"), she obliged. As she is dancing in half-drunk ecstasy, a bonfire blazes in her background. All her perceptions of happiness may have rooted out from her innocence, but ultimately, her joy is to be always near the 'fire'. Brocka in one of his finest, and so was Nora.
FINAL RATING: 5 STARS