FILM REVIEW: DEKADA ’70 2/2

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The Plot: – Dekada 70 is a story of a family caught in the midst of a tumultuous time in Philippine history – the martial law years. Amanda (Vilma Santos) and Julian (Christopher Deleon) is a picture of a middle class couple with conservative ideologies, who must deal with raising their children, five boys – Jules (Piolo Pascual), Isagani (Carlos Agassi), Emmanuel (Marvin Agustin), Jason (Danilo Barrios) and Bingo (John Sace) in an era marked by passion, fear, unrest and social chaos. As siblings struggle to accept the differences of their ideologies, as a father faces the painful dissent of his children, a mother’s love will prove to be the most resonant in the unfolding of this family’s tale, will awaken to the needs of her own self, as she embarks on a journey of discovery to realize who she is as a wife, amother, a woman and a Filipino. – Star Cinema

The Reviews: True Gift – “…For these reasons, we believe that Vilma’s character in “Dekada ’70” is the female lead, while Ara’s role in “Mano Po” is a supporting player. This is because “Mano Po” is an “ensemble” film, with not just one of two but many members of the central family involved in various ways in slowly and painfully reorienting the Chinese family’s attitudes and actions in relations to Filipinos and to the Philippines, where the family lives, works, and has held her emotions in check to keep the peace in the family. It was only later, when the national trauma of martial law rule affected her sons in vaious tragic ways, that she found the voice and rediscovered the heart to assert herself as a person and to give her emotions full play. We submit that Vilma’s portrayal is excellent precisely because she vivified her character as the wife and mother was in the ’70s. Her thematic and emotional hight points towards the end of the film rivetting, but it was her quieter, more controleed moments that showcased Vilma’s true gift as an actress. During those moments, Vilma didn’t just observe what was going on, she was constantly conflicted only, she had been programmed not to speak out because it wasn’t her “place.” Thus, when she finally changes and expresses herself in the end, the contrast makes her transformation all the more stunning…” – Nestor U. Torre, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan 14, 2003 (READ MORE)

Speak-up – “…We really wish that viewers take a more personal interest in this controversy, make up their own minds, and verbalize their opinions. You see, if films people complain, they can always be accused of being sore losers. If reviewers take a stand, they can be suspected of subjectively favoring either one of the top contenders. But if viewers speak up, they can’t be accused of having a hidden agenda. And if a clear majority of them favors one film, that can be taken as the collective voice of the movie audience, for whose benefit all of these “quality” films are supposed to ahve been made, in the first place. A final word, this time on the Vilma Santos-Ara Mina competition in the filmfest best actress category. When Ara was adjudged winner, we thought she should more properly have won in the best supporting actress category. And when we saw “Dekada ’70,” we knew that Vilma fully deserved to win as best actress. Ara’s performance was outstanding, but Vilma’s was in a league all its own, the sterling product not only of her talent, but also of her long experience as an actress. With her new maturity, she’s even better than she was in most of her award-winning starrers, and all that Ara Mina needs to do is to watch Vilma in “Dekada ’70” to concede that, although she did well in “Mano Po,” Vilma has clearly outdistanced her in Chito Rono’s film…” – Nestor U. Torre, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan 05, 2003 (READ MORE)

Humanity’s Liberation – How does one outlive the monstrosity of the Martial Law years and how do we pose the relevance of such question now when we tend to be indifferent and apathetic to events going on, both here and around the globe? The film “Dekada ’70” raises such issue and concers. Like the monster it tries to exorcise, the film spawns more question for anyone who continues oneself in relation to others and to a contemporary reality. Upon watching “Dekada ’70,” one gets the impressive things haven’t changed that much since then and that we are still suffering post-traumatic syndrome of the seventies malaise. We wonder then, what went wrong after two EDSA revolutions? There’s no effective way of depicting such reckoning than by way of story and thus, the master storyteller herself, Lualhati Bautista, frames “Dekada ’70” conveniently from mother’s point of view, Amanda Bartolome’s, whose coming, into terms with the problems of child rearing, domesticity and sexual relations become the very venues for articulating change and advocacy in our political and collective life. Amanda herself becomes the point of departure for our reading. Her questions and doubts about her femininity specifically her role as a mother to Jules, Gani, Em, Jason and Bingo, and as wife to Julian, are subsumed in thelarger context of our socio-political discourse today. We are not just simply sympathizing with her, but instead we see her struggles as constitutive of whatever far future history has in store for all of us – men, women, gays or lesbians. In other words, Amanda’s liberation is the humanity’s liberation and no genuine emancipation can be realized nor revolutions are complete if a person like her still remains in thedark. Her nurturing hands shall also be the symbolic raised fists against any imminent danger. Where do we trace Amanda’s oppression and concomitant silencing? First, she cannot relate to her husband’s circle of friends. In one scene, she attempts to join a discussion about poetry but only to be repudiated in return.

Khalil Gibran – Second, she notices how her relationship to Julian is quite uneven. One time, Julian asks her to reprimand their kid’s lewd singing. She hesitates and tells him there’s nothing wrong with the song. However, when she has heard her husband humming the same song to her, she feels wronged and insulted. This is one of those incidents when one sees Amanda’s relationship with Julian seems disproportionate with regard to what one says to one another for instance and in such situations, Amanda has no choice but to remain silent and kepp her feelings for herself. She will have to adjust to Julian. Thus, Amanda learns to shut up even during dinnertime when her husband talks. In one scene, Julian talks about how they were seduced by the girls and Amanda’s face bears all the marks of insult and humiliation. Amanda’s alienation further manifests in her relationship with Jules, her eldest son who become an NPA agent. The fact that Jules becomes an NPA is already difficult for her to hear. She cannot understand why Jules will have to go away from her. One time, Jules wrote his brother Gani a letter in which he quotes a poem from Khalil Gibran, saying the sons of light do not belong to their mothers. Amanda, upon hearing what Jules wrote, gets hurt. She tries to communicate her feelings to no avail. Her family fails to answer her adequately. Her yearning will only be accomodated at the turn of the events in the country when her son Jules will be one of those political prisoners who will be tortured and Jason will be brutally murdered for no apparent reason by unknown assailants. Amanda cries for justice and when she confronts her husband that they should do something, she learns from him that they are helpless against a fascist oppressive state. Summary executions have been rampant in the country at that time and this only confirms Amanda’s worst nightmares. We learn Amanda’s silence is indeed a symptom of the state’s machinery control and the Bartolome family function as an ideological apparatus in which other institutions like the Church and the school remain subservient to the state in order to perpetuate fascists’ interests and agenda.

Self-worth – For Amanda, her oppression take the form of the myth of motherhood and limited domestic functions, and thus, she cannot get an answer why she has to go to bed with her husband, in the same way that she cannot go to courts to demand justice for her sons. How does Amanda outlive the monstrosity of that decade? We see in the film how the Bartolome family is not only the stake but also the site of struggle and often of bitter forms of Amanda’s struggle. She finds means and occasions of expressing dissatisfaction within the family and outside as she allies with the rest of the exploited. In one poignant scene, she consoles her husband that they should cry together out of desperatin. She believes there is strength in togetherness. Their vulnerability is the source of Amanda’s power. Utilizing such contradiction, Amanda learns the painful way of discovering her agency, potential and power to direct the family’s state of affairs and contribute to the political stabilization of the country. When her youngest son, Bingo, asks her if ever the pigeons will come back to them, Amanda says they will. She knows both the pigeons and her sons will come back home to her. Her struggles are not yet over and thus the film ends with a beginning, her longing for home. By the same token, we, like Amanda, are also called to respond to the challenge of our contemporary reality. We must seek out also our potential and use the very instrument of oppression against our oppressors to articulate dissent and resistance. We shall not cease from taking active participation in politics because our conditin must be one of continued striving and restless dissatisfaction; a condition more of discenment than complacency to possess the only kind of self-worth of which we can best be at home ultimately. – Gary C. Devilles, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan 08, 2003 (READ MORE)

Restraints – So shoot me. Chito Rono’s “Dekada ’70,.” this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival’s second best picture, is tops for me. Not because I like thedecade and danced to it’s music and gave my mother the same Kahlil Gibran poem about your children not being your children but the sons and daughters of the universe – something like that – which figured in the movie, and fleshed out the pain in Vilma Santos’ mother role. It was one of the most powerful moment in the film, full of undertones and unabashed celebrations fro surviving the most tumultuous decade of the last centure. In that scene, a stoic Amanda Bartolome (Vilma), mother of five boys (Piolo Pascual, Carlos Agassi, Marvin Agustin, Danilo Barrios, John Wayne Sace) and wife of a chauvinist (Christopher de Leon) was cleaning the room of her eldest son Jules (Pascual), who had gone underground, so that her other son Jason (Barrios) could move into it. Jules had sent her mother the Kahlil Gibran poem. With Jason rejoicing in the background, Amanda mubles, “Hindi ko naman daw anak, nagdaan lang naman sa akin, (He is not my son, he just passed through me).” This was the moment of Amanda’s acceptance of Jules convictins, even if she still could not reconcile her role in the changing landscape of her universe. Despite its title, “Dekada ’70” is not all about political activism. It’s about a woman’s struggle to become more than a wife and a mother. It’s wife and a mother. It’s about finding a career and about being proud of herself. It’s about Vilma Santos playing her age in a movie, and defying the harsh lights and theunforgiving close-ups. With the events of the ’70s intruding into her family’s life, Amanda comes to terms with herself and her losses. As usual, Rono has brought out the best his performaers. Restraint was all over the movie: From Christopher, who could not cry despite the death of a son, to Vilma, who kept her discontent in her heart, to the actors who played their sons and in whom you would see a brother, a boyfriend, a husband, a professor, a managing editor.

Martial Law – The Bottomline is that they are husband and wife, and why shouldn’t they laugh and cry together in the end. Lualhati Bautista, who wrote the novel in which the movie was based, had drawn from characters whom she had known in the ’70s, like the salvage victim whose body was found at the back of the Ramada Hotel in Ermita, the disappeared professor-activist Charlie Del Rosario, according to Rono. The torture scenes of Jules when he was caught by the military were based on an actual documented case, he said. “I interviewed people who lived through the torture, like the mother whose son was shot in the stomach and was tortured by soldiers by poking the barrel of a long gun into the wound and stirring his intestines with it,” he said. “That was how the mother described it to me and it was in Hati’s dialogue.” Rono, too, is faily acquainted with the decade and with the generals who were in power. His father, the late Jose S. Rono, was Ferdinand Marcos’ deputy prime minister. “I was in high school when Martial law was proclaimed,” he recalled. “At that time, we were in Samar and my father was governor. I remember that while we were watching Marcos on TV, I asked my father what Martial Law meant. “My father, even if he was a lawyer, did not know much what it meant. The first thing he did was meet with the mayors and they talked among themselves.” The next day, soldiers arrived in their house to pick up his father. “I was scared. He was carrying his leather bag where you could fit in two pairs of pants. He waived at me so I thought it was fine.” His mother Carol explained to him that Marcos had called, asking for his father’s service in the new society the strongman would create. “Dekada ’70” might not be the ultimate film about the ’70s, but it is Rono’s vision of a world that was flawed, awesome, even frightening but never to be forgotten. “It was my time,” he said. And mine. – Nini Valera, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan 02, 2003 (READ MORE)

Dilemma – Actress and Lipa City Mayor Vilma Santos is torn between showbiz and politics. The taping of her 40th anniversary special last Wednesday had to be postponed, following her dilemma about Republic Act 7160, which prohibits public officials from appearing on TV and doing movies. “I was told the law has been existing for a long time now, but I only found out about it after the Manila Film Festival,” discloses Vilma, who starred in Chito Rono’s period drama, “Dekas ’70,” one of the official filmfest entries. “I am not familiar about the law, so I want to know its exact definition and clarify it first before I start working again. That’s my dilemma now.” Vilma’s TV special was schedulred to be aired on ABS-CBN this Sunday, but the telecast has been postponed indefinitely until Vilma can get the green light to work. “I don’t want to start anything only to be prohibited in the middle of my work,” Vilma says. “Of worse, they might even file a case against me.” Vilma has a dialouge with the ABS-CBN executives, who signed her up for the TV spcial. “I had to request them to postpone the airing until I can get a clear interpretation of that law,” Vilma says. “Even if I make a movie, I want to be sure if it’s possible and I will be allowed. “But according to the Local Governament code, a public official can take a leave of absence for three months, like what (Caloocan City Mayor) Rey Malonzo did, so he could do a movie, Kung talagang hindi puede, I have no choice but to follow the law. Integrity is very important to me.” Vilma insists she doesn’t agree with RA 7160, prohibiting showbiz stars-turned-politicians from doing TV or movie work. “For me, there’s no conflict of interest there,” Vilma explains. “We can work on weekends or after our daily jobs in our public offices.” She is bent, however, on finishing her second term as Lipa City Mayor. “Then maybe after that, I can just make a choice if it’s really show biz or politics.” – Leah Salterio, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb 14, 2003 (READ MORE)

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