FILM REVIEW: BROKEN MARRIAGE


The Plot: After ten years and two children, Rene and Ellen find their marriage on the brink of breaking up. They seem to have fallen out of love and life has become a series of verbal hussies and conflicts. They decide that the only way out is a temporary separation. Rene, a police reporter, and Ellen, who is a television production assistant, begin to live apart from each other. Rene moves into his friend’s apartment while Ellen has to cope with running a household by herself. But they soon begin to feel the effects of their separation. A series of events that follow drastically change their lives. Rene is mauled for his expose of a gambling casino owned by a high ranking government official. He is forced to stay temporarily in the house of Ellen’s mother. As he recuperates from his injuries, both he and Ellen attempt to rebuild their shattered relationship. – Manunuri (READ MORE)

Demanding careers and two children have left Ellen (Vilma Santos) and Rene (Christopher De Leon) with a rocky marriage. A trial separation follows, and soon enough, the consideration of divorce — a serious taboo in Filipino culture in 1983. Orestes Ojeda co-stars as a new flame who lights up Ellen’s life. Prolific director Ishmael Bernal directs a heart-tugging script that he co-wrote with Bing Caballero and Jose Carreon. – Netflix (READ MORE)

The Reviews: Broken Marriage comes as a second wave to the noisy ripple created by Vilma Santos’s award-winning performance in Relasyon. The Regal people have banged their bongos so much harder this time that viewers will expect that Ms. Santos’ cards for this year’s awards derby will be more than secure. The hint is that Broken Marriage is a Vilma Santos movie. Lest the moviegoer expect too much from this year’s quadruple winning best actress, he should be forewarned that the movie is about, well, a broken marriage.

After more than 10 years of marriage, two young persons find each other repugnant. Ellen is a television floor director who hops from one set to the other shooting sitcoms and soaps. Her husband, Rene, complements her rapid lifestyle in investigative reporting. The movie commences with Ellen coming home in the morning from overtime with a crew party on the side. Rene greets her with an ugly nag. The house turns topsy-turvy as they proceed to hurl invectives against each other.

The exchange is extremely exhilarating; and just as the viewer breathes a sigh of relief, another quarrel starts and ensues as if it were the final assault.

Eventually, they decide to separate at the cost of their boy’s understanding nod and their little girl’s distaste. Rene moves to a house populated with such absurd characters as an artist who carves sexy sculptures, a friendly bit-part actor, and a gay art director who cuddles the upstart. Ellen, meanwhile, has to see to it that the children are not left out in their school activities – even standing as an athletic parent during one of her boy’s scouting engagements. She also has to check the advances of her bodyache-complaining producer, to whom she later gives in anyway.

Gradually, the two people realize the great loss that comes with division. Ellen, with the two children, is forced to move to her mother’s place after her house is burglarized, thus realizing the difficulty of an unmanned house. Rene substitutes a whore in the absence of his wife’s caresses. It is when Rene gets beaten up by a city mayor’s goons for nearly publishing a detrimental article and is constrained to recuperate in his mother-in-law’s house that the couple starts patching up the seams of the rent relationship. The ending is of course happy: reconciliation, what else?

Comparisons dawn inexorably: how does Broken Marriage fare as a follow-up to the bravura of Relasyon? This is tough inquiry. If intentions were to be the starting point, then the new movie is a better achievement. Relasyon, judging from its title, was supposed to be about a man and other woman relationship; but the feminist tendencies of our cinema had pinned the movie to a fateful drift: the travails of the modern mistress. Broken Marriage never swerves from its goal; from start to finish it is a portrait of two persons and the bond which they discover smothering and smoldering.

But the ordinary moviegoer does not assess by artist’s intentions – he does not even care about the artist (I mean here the one behind the work. On one hand, the film in front of him is the present; and on the other hand, it is the past. Broken Marriage is made to appear to him as a sequel to Relasyon. The process of integrating the past and the present is a challenge for him. For him are opened two avenues: to start with past and proceed with present; or start with present and proceed with past. If he chose the former, the condemnation for Broken Marriage would clang like a wild cymbal. If he chose the latter, the outcome is a laudatory comment).

Nonetheless, one has to prove that the new movie can stand on its own feet. What Relasyon sadly lacked (albeit not too sadly) was humor. Broken Marriage has tons of it – the caustic swaps, the funny characterizations, the clever plottings – so that the audience’s conditioned response for a supposedly serious movie shifts irrevocably to playful irreverence. Vintage Ishmael Bernal.

It is a masterly stroke – the proverbial Bernal sleight-of-hand at work, this time with more gusto and style. If the Inquisition were still around, he would be branded and burned seven times as a heretic for turning a marriage gone sour into an off-beat frolic suddenly turned sweet – at least, to the viewer’s mirth-hungry belly.

But none may claim that Bernal’s treatment loses its mark of delineating the disadvantages of separation. The humor chisels the message so that it comes to us shining and double-edged, while doing its duty of alleviating an otherwise gloomy impression which accompanies every disillusioning subject matter.

Not only does it come through humorously but also simply. Nowhere is the strain which anyone expects from grave subjects present here. It is as if the dreary topic had been borne on the Lord’s shoulders so that the yoke – and audiences love to be martyrs of maudlin tears – becomes, this rare time, light and easy. The scene where Rene visits his family and finds Ellen and the children agitated by the swift burglary of the house, and the producer wrily comments “Mahirap talaga ang walang lalaki sa bahay”(It’s difficult to have no man in the house) is casual but very biting so that the urgency of the hero returning to his gamily throbs mercilessly like a set clock.

In the same way, Bernal shows Ellen’s retrospective mood minus the conventional flashback: her younger sister is engaged to be married, and Ellen watches the two lovebirds running like children, with a bright but painful smile, even with jealousy, knowing that after the ceremonies, the two will lose the innocence which tradition stifles. This is a repetition of the technique Bernal used in Relasyon – the mistress attending the wedding of her cousin – with just the same effect, namely, sympathy.

The screenplay plunges right into the boiling point, the issues hurled to the foreground like machine-gun fire, the familiar scenes of hatred and division treated like aimless confetti so that the audience neither breathes nor is excused. It jolts us at the outset and after the terrible whipping, when the squabbles lessen and finally ebb into peace, we realize that these two handsome people must have had only one tragic flaw: they did not keep mum for a while.

Manolo Abaya’s cinematography dances with the jetstyle rhythm of the two protagonists. From the clever blocking of the morningjumble scenes to the hurried bustle of the television studio, Abaya’s camera sweeps avidly and flawlessly. In his hands, the incessant quarrels of Rene and Ellen seem like a vengeful lovemaking. The long shots, conventions of a Bernal, are more developed here. Above all, Abaya’s camera has humor and pathos.

The production design never digresses from its limited scope but manages to make poetry out of cluttered rooms and artificial television set-ups. The claustrophobia one feels at the outset of the movie with the couple’s disorderly room easily renders the hopelessness of the two people’s situation. The music filters the emotions of the characters with a detached but effective air. Jesus Navarro’s splendid editing is a breathless canvass of cosmopolitan animation.

The supporting actors are remarkable. Spanky Manikan as a loony reporter getting loonier everyday must not be denied mention; so with the actors who play the sculptor and the gay art director. Lito Pimentel as the gay’s idol is a relaxed performer with a talent for effortlessness.

Christopher de Leon endows the character of Rene with the right sense of machismo and basic weakness. When Rene is compelled to act maturely, De Leon unflinchingly turns him even more childish with useless tantrums; and when Rene finally learns his lesson, De Leon adds a boyish smile as if the lesson were amusing. We watch De Leon, elated and entertained: he is never so old as to appear too distant nor is he too young as to seem undocile. Broken Marriage is a gift to this actor. He is not propelled here to be more manly; since his character is made to contribute to a lot of oversights, De Leon’s doesn’t have to put a mask of strength: he just has to be himself and act with ease.

Vilma Santos is not about to be a letdown, not this time when the most important female roles are coming her way. A new intelligence she infuses in the character Ellen. Like De Leon, she turns Ellen into a woman-child, but the stress is less on her part as she has done similar roles before. Her beautiful face is flush receptive: the quiet moments of just observing the people around her are moments of perfect acting. Her body moves with an agility that is both funny and dramatic. Her two monologues – the first with her friends in the cafe when she informs them that she is bored, and the second with Rene when she tells him that they are not children anymore – are her best scenes: the camera lingers upon her countenance and she enunciates in return with ironic ease. She should watch out for next year’s awards race – there is simply no stopping her at the moment. – Joselito Zulueta, Sine Manila – 1983 (READ MORE)

Mahigit sampung taong nagsasama bilang mag-asawa sina Ellen (Vilma Santos), floor director sa isang programang pantelebisyon at Rene (Christopher de Leon), isang investigative reporter. Sa simula pa lamang ng Broken Marriage (Regal Films, 1983) mapapansing pag-uwi pa lamang ni Ellen mula sa trabaho, pakikipagtalo agad ang isinasalubong ni Rene dito. Ipinakita ng pelikula ang tumitinding alitan sa pagitan ng mag-asawa hanggang sa mapagdesisyunan nilang pansamantalang maghiwalay. Pilit na ipinaintindi ng mga ito ang di pagkakaunawaan sa kanilang dalawang anak. Nanirahan si Rene sa isang bahay na pinamumugaran ng isang grupo ng mga absurd characters na matatagpuan sa pelikula. May iskultor, isang bit player at ang kinakasama nitong baklang art director. Di naglaon, napilitang makisama ni Ellen at ng mga anak sa poder ng kanyang ina sa dahilang pinagnakawan ang kanilang bahay dala ng kawalan ng lalaking magtataguyod dito. Nang mapag-alamang ilalathala ni Rene ang isang artikulong maglalantad sa katiwalian ng isang opisyal ng lokal na pamahalaan ay agad itongipinagulpi upang mapigilan ang pag-publisa ng artikulo. Pansamantalang tumigil si Rene kasama ng asawa’t anak sa bahay ng kanyang biyenan upang magpagaling at dito naayos ng dalawa ang kanilang pagsasama. Ang pagtatapos? Muling nabuo ang kanilang pamilya.

Paano malalampasan ng Broken Marriage ang Relasyon? Kung pagbabasehan ang intensiyon ng direktor, higit itong nakaaangat sa Relasyon. Mula simula hanggang sa pagtatapos nito, hindi lumihis ang Broken Marriage sa mensaheng nais nitong ipahatid. Mahusay ang pagsasalarawan ni Ishmael Bernal sa domestikong suliranin ng mag-asawa bagama’t sumasang-ayon sa patriyarkal na gahum habang pinagbibigyan nito ang di inaasahang pagkamulat ng lalaking protagonista ay nagpakita ding ganap sa semiotikong detalye ng kompleksidad ng resolusyon sa pansariling loob. Ang sensitibong paglikha ni Vilma Santos kay Ellen ay isang marubdob at personal na layon kung ihahambing sa kanyang pagsasakarakter ng papel ni Marilou bilang kerida sa Relasyon. Hinamon ni Ellen ang kumbensiyonal na depinisyon ng pagiging asawa at pagkaina sa paghahanap ng mga alternatibo sa gitna ng makainang pagpapalaki sa mga anak. Ginawan niya si Ellen ng sariling silid kung saan nakahanap ito ng solitaryong kanlungan nang hindi pinuputol ang pakikipag-ugnayan sa asawa. Iniugnay ni Ellen ang ang kanyang pribadong hapdi sa spectrum ng kanyang relasyon. Samantala, nakatutok ang tunggalian sa Broken Marriage hindi lamang kay Vilma Santos kundi kay Christopher de Leon. Nasa asawang lalaki ang bulto ng suliranin kaya sa kanya umiikot ang kuwento, ang relasyon ni Rene kay Ellen at ang relasyon ni Rene sa kanyang mga anak. Ang maalam na pagpasok ni de Leon sa katauhan ni Rene ang lumiligalig sa mga kontradiksiyong talamak sa sistemang patriarkal. Kaakibat ng Broken Marriage ang manipestasyon ni Bernal sa pagbibigay ng representasyon sa reyalidad at partikular na pagsasaayos ng iba’t-ibang elementong kaagapay sa masining na pagbuo ng pelikula. – Jojo DeVera, Sari-saring Sineng Pinoy (READ MORE)

Ishmael Bernal: “…O, bakit parang lutang ka diyan? Porke’t naka-grand slam ka, feeling mo, magaling ka na?…” Bernal scolded Vi when she reported to the set of Broken Marriage, still high after her grand slam wins for Relasyon and a little unmotivated. – Richard Bolisay, Lilok Pelikula, 15 May 2010 (READ MORE)

“… Reportedly Ms. Santos, buoyed by the many acting awards earned by the previous film, was so eager to do well in the new production that Bernal got irritated, locked her in a bathroom, and delivered to her an ultimatum: she was not coming out till she got over her ‘hysteria.’ One sees what made the latter so successful, the same time watching this one sees why Bernal didn’t want to simply duplicate that success. Relasyon was a lean and elegantly told melodrama that took a sidelong glance at the institution of Filipino marriage; in Broken Marriage Bernal wanted to examine the institution directly, without the oblique glances. He didn’t want to film some doomed struggle to keep love alive but something less dramatic, far more difficult to capture: the aftermath of a protracted war, where the ultimate casualty is married love. He in effect didn’t want Ms. Santos at her perkiest and most energetic–he wanted her exhausted, looking for a way out, and to her credit Ms. Santos delivers exactly this with her performance…” – Noel Vera, Critique After Dark, 08 April 2012 (READ MORE)

“…In Filipino melodramas, the heroines often lean on against a hostile environment. Some no less combative women have created a permanent place in the film industry of the country…Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal devoted themselves repeatedly with a strong social and political consciousness of the popular form of melodrama. More than Brocka himself Bernal frequently focused on strong female characters that need to manage their lives under unfavorable circumstances. In his films female stars in the spotlight, without the problems of everyday life would go by the board. With Vilma Santos in 1982 he turned Relasyon, wherein the main character wants to escape from a stifling marriage and not only emotionally, but also legally reaches its limits (a year later with Santos Bernal turned the thematically similar mounted Broken Marriage). Was produced Relasyon of Lily Monteverde , who plays an influential role in the Philippine film industry today. Already at the beginning of the 20th century there were in the studios and production companies in the country powerful women who ruled with a firm hand and were addressed by their subordinates even as mothers. “Mother Lily” made his mark as a hard nosed business woman, often more economic than artistic interests followed, understandably, not just friends. The young director Raya Martin let her in his short film Long Live Philippine Cinema! (2009) even to death to save the Philippine cinema…” – Michael Kienzl, Critic.de, 10 Sep 2014 (READ THE TRANSLATION)

RELATED READING:
Wikipedia: Ishmael Bernal
Ishmael Bernal (1938-1996)
The Films of Ishmael Bernal Circa 1971-79, Part One
The Films of Ishmael Bernal Circa 1980-94, Part Two
Tribute to Ishmael Bernal
The new ‘Working Girls’ front and center
Ishmael Bernal (1938-1996)
The Films of Ishmael Bernal Circa1980-96, Part Two
Remember The Face: Bernal Film Director
The Bernal-Santos Collaborations
Promising “Inspiration”
Inspiration (1972)
Now and Forever (1973)
Dalawang Pugad Isang Ibon
Ikaw ay Akin
Good Morning Sunshine
Relasyon
Broken Marriage
Pahiram ng Isang Umaga

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