Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list
Himala aka Miracle
dir. Ishmael Bernal scr. Ricky Lee cin. Sergio Lobo with Nora Aunor, Veronica Palileo, Spanky Manikan, Gigi Duenas, Vangie Labalan, Laura Centeno, Ama Quiambao, Ben Almeda, Cris Daluz
In 100 words: Bernal’s masterpiece is a scathing criticism of Filipino social and religious mores, providing such a potent depiction of spiritual prostitution and the blind fanaticism that rises from poverty. Few films can match it for its cultural resonance in the Philippines, and fewer films around the world can match its depiction of religion as an opiate for the masses. Connects the dots between religion, the free market, the media, and the government, all within the confines of a story that shrouds itself in enigmas and ironies. On top of that, this is one expressively shot and sound designed film. Aunor’s legend.
Other Movies for Context: Within a country that is tied to Catholicism and has used faith as the subject of many films, Himala stands at the totem pole of iconoclasm. Bernal’s other major picture, Manila by Night has a similar sensuality that he imbues here, but more diffuse. Aunor’s other best movie is Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976) offers a similarly bleak view of faith in times of crisis, similar to this movie’s treatment of the subject, but that one is more black and white than the ambiguity here.
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).