I don’t think my mom was ever a fan of Lino Brocka’s films. I can’t remember her taking me to see any of his movies. My mom loved Filipino movies or maybe she was just a fan of Vilma Santos and Sharon Cuneta… hence, I’ve seen quite a lot of their films due to my incapacity to choose because of age. Don’t ask me what these movies where, I can hardly remember them.
To date, I don’t think I’ve seen any of Brocka’s films. After seeing clips or portions of his work in TV, I found them either too dark, too brutal, too melodramatic, or too graphic… or all of the above. There are only two things I know about Brocka before this assignment: first, he is touted as one of the best Filipino directors; and second, that he is an activist who was arrested and sent to jail during the Marcos regime. If you google “100 best Filipino films”, most likely, at least five of them will be by Brocka. Not only are his films recognized by local award giving bodies but also international movie critics and earned honors in international film festivals. So after decades of shying away from his films, I think these are worth watching… not only because movie critics proclaimed them to be so… but they mirror a certain point of our history that many have forgotten or chose to ignore… or maybe they are just too young or were not yet born.
- Bayan Ko (This Is My Country) was deemed subversive by the government of Ferdinand Marcos, and underwent a legal battle to be shown in its uncut form. At the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, however, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or. It garnered four honors at the 1986 Gawad Urian Awards, including best picture. The story was loosely based on incidents that made news in the early 1970s before the Martial Law era, such as a strike that paralyzed Manila, the kidnapping of a businessman and the shoot-out between the kidnappers and police. Thus, the film made censors uneasy and its release was delayed with the intent of finding a way to keep the movie from being released. All rally scenes were ordered deleted, as well as the title song. Eventually, a few scenes portraying live sex shows were also cut out, and the film was released. The film was then smuggled into France and was shown at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. A sensation was caused when Brocka announced to the international media that Bayan Ko was banned in his homeland for unexplained reasons. Due to this furor, the government realized that the film was highly critical of the current regime and ordered Brocka’s arrest. He was eventually released.
- Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (The Claws of Light), which is considered by many critics to be the greatest Philippine film ever made – including British film critic and historian Derek Malcolm. The film tells the allegorical tale of a young provincial named Julio Madiaga who goes to Manila looking for his lost love, Ligaya Paraiso. The episodic plot has him careering from one adventure to another until he finally finds Ligaya. Much of the film’s greatness can be traced to the excellent cinematography by Mike de Leon, who would become a great Filipino filmmaker himself.
- Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Weighed But Found Wanting), which told the story of a teenager growing up in a small town amid its petty and gross injustices. It was a box-office hit, and earned Brocka another best-director award, this time from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS).
- Orapronobis (Fight for Us) is a 1989 Filipino political thriller film directed by Lino Brocka. The film stars Phillip Salvador and Dina Bonnevie. After being released from a Philippine prison following the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, a former priest (Salvador) gives up his violent activities in favor of peaceful social activism. But he quickly discovers that vicious death squads, and notorious counter-insurgency operations, still plague his country, and soon he is considering joining the resistance again.
- Insiang (1978) was the first Philippine film ever shown at the Cannes Film Festival. It is considered to be one of Brocka’s best films — some say his masterpiece. The film centers on a young woman named Insiang who lives in the infamous Manila slum area, Tondo. It is a Shakespearean tragedy that deals with Insiang’s rape by her mother’s lover, and her subsequent revenge.
We don’t have to agree with Brocka’s depiction of Philippine society during his lifetime. We may even struggle with finding the relevance of his messages and themes in contemporary times. Brocka’s films were mostly political and for certain generations, his work has been a catalyst for change.