Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List.
dir. Lino Brocka (1976) scr. Mario O’Hara and Lamberto E. Antonio, based on a story by Mario O’Hara cin. Conrado Baltazar with Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal, Rez Cortez, Marlon Ramirez
In 100 words: Dubbed an “immorality tale” by its director, Insiang stuns and repels with its opening shot of a pig being slaughtered. A neorealistic melodrama set in the slums of Manila, Brocka heightens the claustrophobia with deft camerawork, while the cacophonic sound mix and creeping, insistent musical cues add menace and desperation. These features accrue visceral thrill as the titular heroine imperceptibly goes from battered victim to merciless monster. A pointed analysis of toxic masculinity and pervasive societal indecency bred by urban poverty, the film may linger on conversations about escaping the slums, but bleakly suggests that may not be an option.
Other Movies for Context: A National Artist for Philippine Cinema, Lino Brocka has an extensive filmography that varies wildly in quality (and availability). I’m a big fan of his most well-known work, Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), which battled Insiang in my mind as Brocka’s best. Insiang may be my personal favorite from his films, but You Were Weighed but Found Wanting (1974) opened my eyes to his work, and it’s great. Loathe as I am to advocate for “poverty porn”, but many of the Filipino directors today owe a lot to Brocka’s influence, including Brillante Mendoza, Marlon Rivera, and Aureaus Solito. Key works from them include Mendoza’s Serbis (2007), Rivera’s The Woman in the Septic Tank (2012), and Solito’s The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005).