Month: September 2016

Isla (Celso Ad Castillo. 1985)

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​It’s not just this impression that it contains plenty of sex scenes and nudity that should make you search for a rare copy of Isla. The movie should more importantly be seeked being a film by of one of our most celebrated filmmakers, Celso Ad Castillo. Here, he gives us masterful visuals again, different angles and shots of a ferris wheel, long shot compositions of people and nature, georgeous underwater scenes of Maria Isabel Lopez as Isla, naked, which no doubt have made the oysters gasp and the sea ferns wave and sway in approval. 

What could have been a celebration of sensuousness and beauty turns out to be the story of a young woman who wants to leave the place. Isla needs to escape from being continually molested by her grandfather, Kadyo. She lives in a ‘typical’ opportunistic male’s world, a ‘damsel’ who asks for help but always ends up miserably with a similar male type who sees her as mere sex object, the female’s dilemma versus the male underscored by having the symbols of power in society to be well represented by men with a seemingly singular goal which is a product  of lust.

Blue Danube opens the film, plays while shots of native and nature images appear. We think the tune is an odd musical score. Then we confirm it’s diegetic, the sound coming from Lolo Kadyo’s turntable. That sequence creates a visual and aural dissonance which confirms the hypocrisy of the owner of the player. It hints and supports Kadyo’s position of  superiority, of his pretense of having ‘culture’, yet he has punctuated the end of that orchestral piece with his quick, short pelvic thrusts  foreshadowing his  barbarism.

We have already been set to be suspicious. We confirm that Kadyo is protective of his grandaughter, but only does so to prepare her for his time of ‘plucking’ and ‘reaping.’ The visiting priest, in an implied  part of the confession scene, ‘fortuitously’ forbids Isla to allow her grandfather to consummate his advances. He fills the young woman’s mind with the idea that God will never forgive her if she lets it happen, burdens her with guilt despite being the victim, poisons  her mind with a selective, shackling, even a perverted kind of morality. We will know that the priest has his devilish motives.

Soon enough Isla is shown using her body to help fulfill her dream to leave. She has seduced a schoolteacher, gets entangled with a cuckolded husband who is an infidel himself, approaches the chief of police and barters her body for the trip, and finally thinks she has found genuine love and salvation, however briefly, in the arms of an asthmatic NPA member. She loses her virginity, gets kissed and had her breasts fondled. Sadly, nothing comes out of these sacrifices and peddling. Isla is cursed to be trapped in that island.

Clear is the movie’s socio-political message and it may well be classed with the overt protest films of the period by Bernal, Brocka or Mike de Leon. It allegorizes a country’s people silenced for years despite the abuses of her colonizers.  At that time, pre-Edsa revolt, it presents a people seemingly acquiescent to an incestuous relationship with her dictator.

I have waited for an emotional high we usually expect from a pretty straightforward or linear storytelling, but it doesn’t come. A slight edit would have done the trick.  If we learn of the incestuous relationship much later, and similarly, if Isla reveals towards the end that she also wants to leave because she wants to search for her parents, it would have drastically changed the impact . We would have wondered longer what it is which drives her to act desperate to the point of having her body as payment just like that. When those secrets are revealed at the crucial time, it would feel like a literal stab at the heart.

Isla is a movie of note for its boldness, for its important underlying message, and for its aesthetic values. You’ll also find out out how sharp to listen to a Tagalog word is the first time Isla admits to the chief of police and to her grandparents that she had sex with a man. You’ll also be able to validate one of its themes in the words of Kadyo to Isla, when he says, “Hindi kita kinamkam.”

Men who have close encounters with our protagonist either disappear or die after. Unlike the blind hobo. He masturbates to orgasm near the beach midway through the story, harmless and unknowing that Isla watches him writhe with pleasure. One brief segment, he’s gone, and then later, he shows up again and creates guttural off notes, tries to mimic the sound of a rusty trumpet but succeeds in sounding closer to the noise created by a hen being strangled. When he’s out of sight, we’re assured he’s someplace, happy, ‘horning’ in his self-contained world.


Till We Meet Again (Elwood Perez, 1985)

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Till We Meet Again is an emotional roller-coaster ride caused by events which happen at an admirable pace. You forget to question the logic and coincidences right there and then and to belittle the seemingly overused plot and themes, a compendium of poor vs rich, rags-to-riches tale, evil martriach controlling the affairs of her son who’s in love with a woman the daughter of a household help. The woman is Theresa, played by Nora Aunor. The movie must have one of her most prolonged screen kisses of all time.

It moves and entertains you unlike what many Star Cinema rom-coms superficially do. It’s primarily the combined skills of the director, editor, writers, and actors which make this romance genre piece energeic, the film, not overt in displaying its deeper significance which lie within its commercial and melodramatic virtues.

It opens with a montage of the characters of Aunor and Tirso Cruz III (Pocholo) as childhood friends growing up together, becoming sweethearts, while the theme song Till We Meet Again sung by the same loveteam plays on the background. The pair’s vocal harmonies are so good to listen to and the pop ballad is a strong piece like many classic movie theme songs I’m thinking it should’ve been part of an album compilation or should be considered for re-release. There’s no question that fans, even those who were just curious then to brave the queues during the movie’s theater run, must have fought hard–and lost–against the movie’s spell which caused them to swoon then go home dreamy and wasted in screaming with joy, probably sated even if they  had only watched that opening montage alone.

Later, after the lovers are separated by fate and lies, they meet again, bookmarked by that ingenious short strip in a restaurant where Theresa sings a few lines of the theme song, flanked by the pianist she calls Willy (Was it Willy Cruz?). Pocholo asks a lady he first bumps into in the same place if the woman he sees (and must have heard singing) is the establishment’s resident lady-crooner. Surprising to hear the question asked when in fact never did Theresa sing in any previous scene in the film. The clip hints at the movie’s playful self-awareness and teases and delights us of our knowledge of the lead actress’s other exceptional talent.

The actors’ performances are made up of the right balance of hysterics and underacting. Armida Siguion-Reyna and Dina Bonnevie are a perfect foil of self-combusting furies to Aunor’s subdued yet devastating replies and glances.
Clocking at more than two hours, the story happening probably in a span of 6 or 7 years ( excluding the opening sequence), the movie rivals Perez’s other classic Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit in terms of emotional power and scope. Nora Aunor represents again strongly in one symbolic scene the marginalized class with that long shot silhoutte of her and a water buffalo one night, tilling a piece of farmland, while her baby is in a crib alone in their shack, crying, hungry. Poverty convincingly sounded primal and painful at the same time. Scenes exemplifying a mother’s true and selfless love, more heartbreaking and intense than these aforementioned images, ensue.