Hinugot sa Langit (Ishmael Bernal, 1985)
English Title: Snatched From Heaven
Ishmael Bernal's Hinugot sa Langit (Snatched from Heaven) is a very challenging film to watch. Right from the start, the audience is introduced with scenarios of complex problems pressed after other problems. The characters are drafted from your typical melodrama stereotypes. The center of the drama is Carmen Castro (Maricel Soriano), the impossibly patient victim of the screenwriter-created dilemmas. Revolving around Carmen's personage and dilemmas are other characters that are seemingly cut from traditionally established cinematic stereotypes. There is Stella (Amy Austria), the liberated and seemingly modern cousin of Carmen. Juling (Charito Solis) is Carmen's overly religious landlady, an avid member of a charismatic prayer group. Jerry (Al Tantay) and Bobby (Rowell Santiago), are the two men in Carmen's life, the former, an irresponsible playboy-gambler, the latter, a traditionalist who is stuck to his life plans.
Hinugot sa Langit, on paper, sounds like your typical Filipino melodrama where histrionics and impossible scenarios abound, but fantastically, the film is far from that. Beautifully restrained, simple, and hard hitting, Hinugot sa Langit tackles a controversial topic with an uncontroversial control and a humanistic approach to a central character that has all the problems of the world to withstand.
During the first few minutes of the film, we are informed that Carmen is pregnant. Her cousin Stella scoffs and recommends abortion. The father of the child, Jerry, also recommends abortion. Her landlady, who is busy juggling her religious aims and her legal quarrel with the poor families illegally living in her land, suggests that she keeps the baby as killing it would be a sin against God. Carmen sees signs that would seemingly suggest an answer to her difficult decision. Her poor neighbors struggle for money to feed their children. She sees a physically malformed child vending goods outside the church. She loses her job at a financing company due to the struggling economy during that time.
Hinugot sa Langit may be branded as preachy and anti-abortion but in reality, while its focus is that controversial issue, Ishmael Bernal and screenwriter Amado Lacuesta, populates the film with side stories that suggest a latter more pressing issue, which is societal hypocrisy. It just so happens that abortion is the most telling of issues. The Philippines being a prominently Catholic nation declares abortion as criminally and morally wrong yet funnily, the practice is unwrittenly accepted among women who are time-pressed with a decision. Such is the scenario here, Carmen is surrounded by suggestions of what to do but is left upon her own faculties in deciding. Each suggestion is clouded by a tinge of doubt. The characters surrounding her aren't naturally sure of their own lives. Stella is outwardly happy and wild but inwardly is insecure and lonely. Juling carries within herself an unerasable guilt which she tries to forget through her religious practices, forgetting that the world has deeper problems than her past. All the events and the characters have unnatural and seemingly impossible roots, but as a screenplay, as a dramatic film, Hinugot sa Langit works.
Thematically sound, Hinugot sa Langit also boasts of technical mastery. The music is sparse and controlled. Bernal forgoes the over orchestrated notion of what a drama should be and instead relies on his visuals and his actors talents to draw out emotions. The cinematography is simple but there are some very wonderful shots where the lighting, the blocking of the actors, and the framing, contribute to an impressive addition to Bernal's atmosphere of confusion and cynicism for this unsure Filipino society. The acting is very impressive. Maricel Soriano is wonderfully restrained, letting go of her usual histrionics for the more difficult style of acting that comes from what is felt within than what is outwardly presented. Charito Solis is a wonderful presence, and so is Amy Austria, who singlehandedly gives the film a lighthearted humor.