Init (Lino Brocka, 1979)

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Photo from Video 48

A sunset bookends the opening montage of Lino Brocka’s Init.  It contrasts the shadows of mother and daughter Osa and Bayang (Charito Solis and Rio Locsin) who paddle their raft to the beach. Its warm-tangy color, with fluffs of gray and white against the gradations of orange, pleases our eyes. It’s like a backdrop of a painting, slightly better than those ‘commercial’ landscapes that adorned the walls of many middle-class homes in the ’80’s.

The two women’s routinary work is also shown in the opening clips. They gather firewood, tend goats, and fish.  At times, they look like amazon women, unquestionably focused on their tasks, on chopping and splitting branches into carriable pieces, impressively skilled in jumping into the water and returning with a wriggling tilapia in one hand. 

Because of her stylishness, Charito Solis, playing an islander, needs some effortful convincing though. She has that Sophia Loren vibe in her—a classy presence. What she wore at the first fishing scene could be your washerwoman’s uniform. Despite the attire being loosely fit, it looks on Ms. Solis so well that if you ask her to wear heels and to put some choker or jewelry whose pendant would obviously kiss her peeking royalty’s breasts, she’s all set right there and then to attend an awards show, or she’s ready to party at Faces or Copacabana. You would’ve wished the (imagined) slit on her dress gets ripped even higher, the neckline to plunge further deeper. No matter where the slit extends to and whichever body part or skin the cuts in the strip of cloth expose, they’re a goddess.’

What curious secrets does Osa keep that they live in a hut away from the many inhabitants of the island? Osa reveals to us later her versions of her past—thrice, in fact. Twice when she speaks with her ‘houseguest’ Emil (Phillip Salvador), and then once with her daughter Bayang where she ‘sanitizes’ it. The barrio folks are partly aware of that story too: They know that she left her parents for a man from the city and then returned pregnant without a husband. Perhaps unforgiving of persons who attempt to separate themselves from their class or who turn ‘monstrous’ to fight for their crazy love, the people must have been scandalized by such boldness of this woman to go against her parent’s commands. Perhaps they’re also envious of what wisdom and experience the trees of knowledge of the metropolis have bestowed upon Osa that that envy has shrunk to nada what little genuine care they have left to spare for her when she returned. They must have clearly made known their distaste with Osa’s existence that they successfully made her live like an outcast in their already remote place.

Except Juan (Leroy Salvador), Osa’s ex-boyfriend. He waits for that chinky-eyed mestiza to love him again despite having married Idad (Laurice Guillen), she who had given him no child in their ten years of union. One night Idad feels the sexual urge and she begins kissing him on the neck and shoulder. She frisks his sides and attempts to touch his private part. But Juan shoos her away like a fly, like a nuisance. Deepseated yet not unknown to his wife, he’s also began to get madly jealous of Emil, the man Bayang found gasping for life on the shore, now living in Ora’s hut, with the youthfulness, looks, and charm of a city dweller capable of stitching ‘magical’ stories which could turn his house companions under his spell. He could convince Osa to leave the island again, Juan fears.

True enough, Emil makes his moves. He seduces Osa. He deflowers Bayang. The set up would’ve been initially fine for the trio, until Emil and Bayang decide to leave Osa and make known their plan to leave the island.

It is at that moment that the hidden surfaces appear, that the complete truths about the lives of Emil and Osa are revealed. Suddenly, Osa realizes that it was like the past happening before her very eyes. The memories bring the pains back, and we imagine such beauty could’ve been victimised, to slaver, to ‘receive’ men nightly like being nailed on a crucifix, there in her must-forget room.

It looks like a simple yet interesting story, isn’t it? But the movie doesn’t burn to climax the sure old-fashioned way. The indiscriminately scattered  dialogues slow down the movie’s pace. For a film with a lot of sex scenes, not much excites. Those copulations in the forest, beach, and hut feel highly stylized, the compositions angular, that the human fluids oil not warm bodies but ‘mannequins’ or at worst machines,  and those sexual acts underscore those who are in control and in power more than burn the libidinal lard. 

Phillip Salvador performs like a newly discovered talent, promising but lacks the depth and mystery needed for the character. Ms. Solis’s unmistakable presence and some close ups where she conveys a mix of whorishness, wildness and bliss, slowly ‘fades’ away. Nothing exceptional too in Leroy Salvador’s portrayal. Laurice as Idad has something going on with her. Her desire is real, but it’s not yet the Laurice Guillen who is capable of stealing the spot from a co-star who played a nun. Actually, there’s this overall impression that the cast are literally like chess pieces, turning faceless as the movie reaches its end. It must have been because there aren’t enough tics or idiosyncracies that make the characters come alive. With about five persons generally sharing screen time, and being that most of the scenes are sex scenes, the movie is anemic of shots which show a character’s face or a simple prolonged scene of a man in a specific spot which effectively give the audience the ample time to try to connect with an individual’s emotional state or psychological burden. Not even a virginal Rio Locsin, who would prove in the years to come that she is a reliable actress, could escape to look like a mere ornament. 

Init was released after Rubia Servios and before Ina, Kapatid, Anak, and Jaguar. Brocka had already directed two of his acclaimed all-time bests Insiang and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag before it. I could only imagine the pressure Lino had on himself, in coming up consistently with masterpiece after masterpiece. With about 60 plus feature films under his belt, doing about 3 films per year on average, it would be genius and a miracle to have films of similar excellent qualities and success. He definitely knew that compromises would happen, realistic that he couldn’t do all the the time the films he wanted to make, having to face the reality that moviemaking is also business. He knew that he needed to keep on experimenting until he finds the right formula that would both lure a sizable audience in theaters and turn out as significant contributions to the artform, significant contribution in the sense that the movies become instruments in awakening the audience of the different social realities and inequalities.

The movie must’ve failed to be a critical success, based on the rarity this Brocka work gets mentioned. But it’s a good transitional work, with themes to be plumbed from it. One is that it’s a woman’s film, though anti-feminist, with the three female characters punished for knowing what they want, for liberating themselves from the shy, chaste, and submissive female stereotypes. It looks like a ‘regressive’ piece for the activist Brocka, but it merely reflects the general perception of women of the time. More interesting to note though, caused by flaws in characterization, is that we didn’t see or feel any character genuinely empathize, show love or show concern for another. For the same reason, we are not moved when somebody dies or gets punished. We are made to assume that the emotional links between characters are there, something we do not need convincing anymore, those givens, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between sex partners–something we do not need to see. But as a visual medium, movies should have scenes that render and dramatise the relationships, to have points of departure and contrast. Selfishness (individualism) is even a common trait put to the fore. For a movie entitled Init, which is ‘heat’ in English, it’s freaking lacking and cold in the love and care department.

Towards the end of the movie, an orange-red sunset appears again with the silhouette of a mob below it. This time the shadows are sharp. I could see clenched fists, sticks, long knives, and other frightening implements in the mix. I remember a red-orange cloth in one of the rooms in my grandmother’s house, with pentel pen-drawn figures of people, placards, slippers, and barbed wires. On the lower part of the plane, written with hardened gray acrylic paint squeezed from a tube, were the words “Justice is in our hands,” like they were piped lettering on a cake. The masses don’t completely get the essence of that line, even if I duplicate that poster and then wave them at the balcony of our second floor bahay-na-bato like flags. Many have forgotten the power that rests in them, and many of those who were once aware are now content with FB trolling and following some woman who’s giving me the Mein Kampf mistress vibe, black dress and sheen black hair and that overall diabolic-vampirish package. Why don’t we ride with her and with where a lot of the doomsday signals are pointing at? Make some purposeful use of the blossoming chaos, agitate the masses a bit, and then turn the elite, the landlords, and the corrupt politicians to beg and cower to be put in jail rather than they entertain the thought and horror of being guillotined by an angry crowd, as punishment for their cupidity and for the social injustices they propagate.

The film is available in Jojo Devera’s Magsine Tayo! Tumbler site.


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