Film Review of Broken Marriage

Broken Marriage; directed by Ishmael Bernal; written by Jose Carreon and Bing Caballero; starring Vilma Santos and Christopher De Leon; produced by Regal Films (* * * * *). Broken Marriage is Ishmael Bernal’s best film since his ill-fated Manila by Night/City After Dark (1980). In fact, Broken Marriage is-in the sense the term is used by painters-a detail from the huge canvas of City After Dark. The theme of this latest masterpiece from the Master is simple: the emotional violence in a marriage mirrors the physical, political, and social violence of the city, City After Dark gave a bird’s eye view of the city. Broken Marriage looks at the city through the eyes of a woman. The violence in the marriage of Christopher de Leon and Vilma Santos is obvious enough. He is a conscientious, compassionate, successful police reporter who is just about to be promoted. They are, in other words, alike. Like poles repel, goes the age-old adage from physical science, and these two career-conscious individuals have no time for each other. He spends his leisure hours reading or catching up on videotaped films. She spends her time on the telephone, making her home an extension of the studio. Bernal cleverly places an issue of Time magazine always within reach of de Leon. The director is saying that time is what is just beyond the reach of these two persons who are in love, not with each other, but with themselves. In fact, their very similarity (they are both sloppy in dressing, in fixing their things, in working habits) points to what must have made them fall in love in the first place; they both see themselves in each other.

To say that the two persons are “incompatible”is to miss a lot. They are, in fact, extremely compatible, because they look, think, and act the same. They both want the marriage to revolve around themselves. They both want fame and fortune. They both want to be loved by the children but not to spend time loving them. They are both stubborn, yet forgiving. They are both faithful to each other, almost to a fault, yet they cannot stand each other. Is Bernal saying that marriages can never work if the two partners are equal in every respect? Is he saying that only a male chauvinist marriage can work, where the man works all day and the woman stays home? Or is he subtly suggesting that marriage itself as an institution is an anchronism in a rapidly-changing world? There will be various interpretations of this film, depending on one’s own preception of one’s own marriage. But disagree or not, viewers cannot fail to see what Bernal’s underying thesis is-that the violence in urban, middle-class marriages is caused by violence outside the house. The home is the center that has failed to hold together. The city is the world that has become “broken.”

Bernal cleverly shows that he is interested not only in a marriage, but in the city, when he lets his background seep into the interstices of the plot. In the first sequence, for instance de Leon is watching Bonnie and Clyde on videotape, an obvious hint that Broken Marriage will also be about love in a violent setting. In Bonnie and Clyde, if you recall, the two lovers-having rediscovered each other are mercilessly mowed down by law enforcement officers. Similarly, the marriage in Broken Marriage is “mowed down”by the lawlessness of society. Again ang again, Bernal includes violent news from the otuside of the home. Rod Navarro’s voice is heard talking about the Middle East war. A bank shoot-out is headlined by de Leon’s paper. During the climactic break-up scene, The Greatest American Hero is showing; in that series, the hero needs extraterrestrial help to combat crime in the modern world. The registration scene in the university shows the lack of discipline that pervades Manila. If the city is not disciplined how can a small family be? Sprinkled throughtout the screenplay are derogatory remarks against institutions noted for their lack of discipline-Meralco (taping is hurried because of an imprending brown-out), MWSS (Santos refuses to pay a bill for water since there has been no water in her neighborhood for months), the Ministry of Publick Highways (streets are described and shown to be full of diggings), the police (who are asked by de Leon to “salvage” or murder a Chinese prostitution king pin), movie actresses (one star fails to appear for a song number), movie producers (Orestes Ojeda’s only object is to sleep with Santos), and, most appalling of all, politicians (personafied by a fictional mayor who points a revolver at de Leon). In short, this is City After Dark all over again, but with more subtle, probably more lasting, effect.

The ending has been criticized by a couple of reviewers. It is true that the beach sequence smacks of commercialism. All’s well that ends well, and all that. But City After Dark, we may recall, also ends on such a happy note. We may disagree with Bernal’s perception that there is always hope left fro man, woman, and the city, but we cannot disallow him his views. In other words, most of us cannot agree that the broken marriage can be mended, but Bernal thinks so, and his films have all ended on such an up-note. I personally would rather see a darker, more realistic ending, but Bernal would not be Bernal without his happy endings. It’s not a completely happy endings, anyway. Two sequences before the beach scene. Bernal films the wedding scene in a haze, as though he were saying that whatever follows the wedding is mere romance. It is like Bonnie and Clyde. The gansters dream of a happy life together, spinning romantic castles in the air. But as soon as it is time to go out into the real world, violence is right there at the doorstep. The ending is filmed as a romantic interlude, but the reality is waiting around the dark corners of the city, like the mayor’s goons who cannot stand the thought that someone is finally about to tell the truth. – Isagani Cruz, Parade Magazine 1983, reposted by Pelikula Atbp (READ MORE)

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