Tag Archives: philippine cinema

Devotion and Assertion in Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980)

5 Jun

On the day that you were born

The angels got together

And decided to create a dream come true…

 Why do birds suddenly appear

Everytime you are near?

Just like me

They long to be

Close to you


How much of your life will you put on hold for someone who takes you for granted? Such is the question explored by Lino Brocka in his film Bona, starring Nora Aunor in the titular role and Philip Salvador.

The film opens with footage of devotees crowding around the statue of the Black Nazarene. The camera pans across the throng and zooms to a nonchalant bystander, a young woman named Bona. The next frame shows Bona at a film shoot, within arms’ reach of her real object of devotion – Gardo Villa (Salvador), a lower-tier actor with an ego heftier than his salary.

As Gardo’s not-so-secret admirer, Bona feels no remorse over cutting class and neglecting her household duties just to bring him refreshments at his shoots. This obsession puts Bona at odds with her domineering father, who sees no point in her reckless abandon.

A family scorned.

One night, the dazed fan girl stays over at Gardo’s place, tending to him after he was mauled by a group of thugs led by the brother of one of his lovers. She goes so far as to fetch water, cook breakfast and bathe him. As Bona sets out doing all these tasks, Gardo is reminded of his late mother, a tough but caring femme fatale under whose shadow he lived most of his life.

Later in the day, Bona returns home only to be beaten and disowned by her father. She then goes back to Gardo, offering to keep house and serve him in exchange for a place to stay. Despite having grown up in a middle-class household, Bona adjusts to life in the slums and assimilates well with the neighbors. She becomes a valuable part of the community, even more helpful and well-liked than Gardo ever was.

Gardo having a one-night stand with a coworker as Bona looks on

Her devotion to the actor, however, is unrequited and for the most part, underappreciated. And yet she draws a false sense of authority from her self-inflicted servitude. This is most evident when Gardo brings home another woman and makes love to her within Bona’s sight and earshot. When Gardo leaves in the morning, the woman bosses around an unyielding Bona.

Bona being bossed around by Gardo's paramour.

Gardo’s new paramour slaps Bona hard, a move that awakens the fighter in the latter. She slaps her right back, chasing her around the house and eventually beating her with a broomstick. Bona’s uncharacteristic violence is her way of marking her territory and asserting her place not only in Gardo’s house, but also in his life.

Gardo lets Bona know her place.

“Ikaw lang ang gusto kong pagsilbihan, Gardo, at hindi ibang tao. Ayokong dalhin mo sila rito sa pamamahay ko,” she told him.

Gardo responded by smacking her in the face. “Sira ka ba? At sinong nagsabi sayong pamamahay mo ‘to, ha? Sampid ka lang dito, at wala kang pakialam kung sino mang babae o ilan mang babae ang dalhin ko dito. Baka gusto mo ikaw ang palayasin ko dito?”

Bona, now in tears, answers, “Huwag! ‘di ko na uulitin.”

Bona bathes Gardo.

Bona is willful submission personified. The limits of what she can and cannot do are always in relation and in response to the men in her life: the father who controls her, Gardo who stunts her personal growth but whose every whim she yearns to satisfy, and the elder brother who becomes hostile to Bona after their father’s death, effectively severing her ties with the family.

Annie tells Gardo that she is bearing his child, and that she intends to have an abortion lest her parents find out.

In the same way, Gardo’s relationships with women also define him. The women in his life stand for different stages and repercussions of his maturity or lack thereof: his mother, a tough cookie who doted on her son to the point of spoiling him; Bona, whose devotion reminds Gardo of his own mother, a familiarity that would jinx any reciprocation of romance on his part; the prostitute and the actress in whose company he could feel “like a man”; Annie the seeming goody-two-shoes who bore his child, and whose abortion (organized by Bona upon Gardo’s plea) becomes a wake-up call for him and Katrina, an older woman besotted with Gardo who provides an opportunity for him to clean up his act and find his fortune elsewhere, albeit by spoonfeeding him still.

Bona, smitten and swooning.

The bedrock upon which Bona’s devotion is founded, however, remains largely untapped. Besides a brief sequence showing her hugging a signed photo of Gardo to her chest (with the strains of “Sayang” by Claire dela Fuente in the background nonetheless), the audience is left curious – perhaps to the point of exasperation – to know just how or why she fell so hard for him in the first place. After all, it’s no mean feat to sustain sympathy for a character who renders herself none.

A simple explanation is offered. Nilo (Nanding Josef), a young man from the squatters who initially showed interest in Bona, asks of her: “Bona, bakit? Bakit ka pumayag na magpaganyan? Inaallila, pinapagad. Ginugutom.”

Unflinchingly, she replies, “Gusto ko eh. At hindi naman ako inaalila. Hindi naman ako napapagod.”

At the end of the film, one realizes even more the relevance of the opening scene with the Black Nazarene. It sets the tone for the premise of the film – adulation, devotion and its consequent sacrifices – and juxtaposes it with Bona’s experiece. Unlike the Nazarene, Bona, despite having sacrificed her whole life, does not get adulation in return. She is powerless, and this powerlessness is what defines her existence. But in her moments of assertion and empowerment, as with her maltreatment of Gardo’s other woman and again in the movie’s heated conclusion, Bona proves that underdogs are not always toothless, and that not even servitude can bear the grunt of silence.

Ang Pinaka-Masayang Finals sa Balat ng Lupa: Art Studies 177 in a nutshell

24 Mar

When I grabbed the last slot for Art Studies 177: Cinema in Philippine Culture through e-Prerog last November, I was certain of only two things: 1) that I love watching films, and 2) I was tired of being a Brocka and Bernal virgin. My exposure to and appreciation for Philippine productions was only at its nascent stage, and I felt I could certainly use a little prodding. And I must admit, it was literally cool attending class at one of the few classrooms in AS with a functioning (bordering on overfunctioning) airconditioner.

Now, I am bound by virtue of academic requirement to reminisce over what in me has changed and what has not in the past four months (this entry is my final examination, after all). But as with anything that has to do with Art Stud, I gladly embark on it because it doesn’t feel like work at all.

As a viewer. In this class, I learned to adapt a sense of surrender when watching films. The best way to not have dashed expectations is to establish none in the first place. Keep an open mind throughout and refrain from judging a film by its commercial returns or critical reviews before even watching it. Film-viewing is a highly personal experience — one chooses and commits to spend x number of hours of his/her life when he/she decides to watch a movie. Kahit sabihin nating class requirement ang pelikula, pwede namang gumawa ng ibang bagay imbes na umupo nang tahimik at mag-focus sa pinapanood (hal. pagpikit, pagtulog, pagkain, pakikipag-usap sa katabi, atbp.).

I came to realize that happy endings are not necessarily good, and good endings are not necessarily happy. Some movies are better off with open-ended or bittersweet endings that viewers can fill the blanks in. Sometimes such endings are more powerful because they act like punches to the gut — they intensify our suspension of disbelief and remind us of how fucked up the world really is (a fact we tried to forget upon entering the cinema/classroom, but oh well papel, such is life and we might as well come to terms with it).

As a critic. There is no such thing as a “realistic” film. Film is, by its very nature, an avenue for its producers’ expression and its viewers’ escape. Notice that I refrain from using the term “entertainment”, because amusement is not what cinema is all about.  Films are not visual playthings that aim to force smiles out of our faces for a fee (not the best ones, anyway). I believe a film can truly say it achieved its purpose if we become its plaything – if we toy around with it in our minds for days, as the film itself grows with and grows on us.

In the world of a film, nothing happens by accident. What the director does not show is just as important as what he does show — and this is not lost in the proactive viewer. I learned to find meaning in such technical things as the interplay of lights and shadows, carefully studying patterns and recurring motifs not just in individual movies but in directors’ entire bodies of work.

As a student. One of the advantages of a non-sectarian education is the wider range of liberal and liberating learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. I came to appreciate the overlaps and interaction of the different fields of mass comm in any production. In my communication theory class, for example, we discussed Film Language and Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure. In order to better understand the concept, I applied the concept of the “male gaze” in cinema to Scorpio Nights and asked for the professor’s input. She agreed that the voyeurism in the film was indeed patriarchal and recommended Macho Dancer as another noteworthy embodiment of Mulvey’s theory.

As a Filipino. Ma’am Eloi said it best when she said, “Ang hindi nanunuod ng pelikulang Pilipino ay walang ‘k’ magsabi na pangit ito.” I enjoyed watching all the films in class (yes, even Tunay na Ina and Bagets, haha) because they showed our nation at its different stages of development. Films are like visual history books — echoing and unraveling the behaviors, perceptions, sentiments, socio-political realities and fashions of different generations. Watching all the films and hearing about pioneers and achievers through my classmates reports, I grew even prouder of the glorious past, resilient present and unparalleled potential of our local film industry.


This is the part where I choose my favorite/s among the eleven films we watched in class. Over the Christmas break, Ma’am Eloi posted this message on our facebook group, “Survey: what Filipino film do you want to watch on our first day of class?” The overwhelming choice was Scorpio Nights, and the rationale was to start the New Year with a bang.

Pop, crack, sizzle.

And quite a bang it was.

At first I felt discomfort as we watched the film. It was something that would have surely scandalized the nuns at the all-girls Catholic high school I graduated from and make their veils stand on end. But I chose this as my favorite because of the insights on life and love that I gleaned from it. Scorpio Nights opened with shots of poverty-stricken Manila and its squatters. It’s set in the summer – it’s hot, it’s humid and it sets the stage for wayward thoughts and hands.

The film’s protagonist is Danny, a college student who looks through a hole on the floor of his rented apartment space ever night and watches the couple living in the unit below as they perfunctorily make love.  One night, he succeeds in seducing the wife (or perhaps it’s the other way around) and sparks a dangerous affair. This film challenged my notions of love and the necessity of physical intimacy. It made me question the existence of a loveless lust, like what the Wife felt for Danny and a lustless love like that of the Husband’s for his wife. Danny and the Wife shared the same astrological sign — scorpio, where the title of the film is derived. But though they may have been a match made in kama sutra heaven, the conclusion of the film and their affair epitomizes a person’s propensity to love to the point of death, as well as the many-pronged dangers of playing with fire and razing out of control.


My wishlist for Philippine cinema

  • Well-maintained national film archives. Lino Brocka found a copy of the pre-war film Zamboanga in Europe, outside our own shores. How many more masterpieces must we lose to other countries or to oblivion before we learn to preserve them for future generations?
  • Less squabbles within the industry. Yes, there are factions even in our own film industry. And while their arguments have not reached the level of chaos seen in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film Network, let’s not hope for such chaos to transpire. Cinema is both a discipline and an art form, and everyone has varying degrees of skill or development in both. It would do the movie scene much good if filmmakers let go of condescending, hoity-toity tendencies and give fellow filmmakers the kind of respect they want and deserve for their own works.
  • More exposure in international film festivals.
  • More frequent and accessible screenings, especially of independent films.
  • Legislation to prevent the abuse and undercompensation of film workers both in front of and behind the camera.
  • Material to continually challenge the Filipino audience and develop open-mindedness. Films that should go on to make a difference in the lives of viewers are not the feel-good, mainstream flicks made of cheese and fluff, banking only on star power, a been-there-done-that plot and marketing backed by a studio. Rather, I hope audiences come to understand that the best films are those that make people squirm in their seats. Films like Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay and Lino Brocka’s Insiang made waves abroad because it gorged the viewers’ minds and senses with inconvenient truths reflective of Philippine society, and compelled audiences to cull a sense of glaring discomfort for their own level of comfort in life.
  • More writings about local films. Through this class, I realized that I could engage my love for films with my other defining passion – writing. Writing about films  is not merely an exercise in ranting and raving. Rather, it is an outlet for analysis, and a way to draw public attention to good and bad movies — of both the past and present — that most people may have never seen or heard of. It is also beneficial for filmmakers because they receive feedback on their works, and constructive criticism goes a long way in helping them improve themselves and their craft.
  • Integration of film classes or film viewings of high-caliber works for elementary and high school students. If we want to get Filipinos to start patronizing our local film industry, then we better develop their  cinematic know-how at an early age. Guide them on how to approach, analyze and appreciate films from both the past and present. In so doing, we inculcate in them a sense of pride for Filipino achievers and culture, and hopefully plant the seeds for the last item in this wishlist.
  • More passionate film students. The industry is wanting of young blood for more eye candy eye-opening and stimulating insights on life and ways of expressing it onscreen. Each film is after all a collaborative rendition of reality, so it does not just become light projected on a lifeless screen, but rather a projection of life to be screened from commercialism and decay.


If I had to relive college life, my Art Stud experience is something I would never splice out. Though I would not go so far as to say that this is a subject I would take again and again (I do intend to graduate on time, after all), I can honestly say that this course was a seminal experience in many facets. The Philippines is a diamond in the rough, both in real and reel terms. The plot to restore the glory of our nation and cinema may not be clear-cut and the journey may be a long take. There will be outtakes and delays along the way, but the resolution to render oneself to the country and the cause stays on long after the credits roll and the background music fades away.