Thursday, September 14, 2006

Orapronobis (1989)

Orapronobis (Lino Brocka, 1989)
English Title: Fight For Us

Lino Brocka's French-funded production Orapronobis (Fight For Us) starts with a priest aboard a scooter, driving to a remote town where there's supposedly some trouble happening. The soldiers in the checkpoint warn the priest that it's dangerous there, and if anything happens to him, it is out of their hands. Nighttime, the priest finally arrives inside a house where a bloodied man is dying. The priest gives the dying man his last rites, until the same soldiers in the checkpoint arrive to stop the proceedings. The leader of the group, Commander Kontra (Bembol Roco) burns the priest's scooter, and finally shoots the priest.

Start opening credits backgrounded by the People Power Revolution which overthrew Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship. We can now place the introductory events in their proper place in Philippine history --- those were turbulent times, pre-Revolution days wherein vigilante groups were cognized by the Philippine military to quell Communist insurgents. The People Power Revolution is burdened with promises and it seems that the introductory atrocity has finally met its end with Corazon Aquino's assumption to the presidency. Marcos' political prisoners are released. Among these political prisoners is Jimmy Cordero (Phillip Salvador), an ex-priest who two years after the Revolution, has married human rights activist Trixie (Dina Bonnevie), now very pregnant with their child. Everything seems dandy until we learn that the same group who killed the priest has been released from prison and is now even regarded by the government as stalwarts of democracy. Another atrocity is shown, a group of men thought of us Communists are gunned down while running for their lives.

Jimmy remains in the middle ground despite the many atrocities that he witnesses. He remains to be a passive observer of the events that supposedly shouldn't be happening after democracy was regained. Director Lino Brocka centers on Jimmy's chosen non-affiliation. It is true that after Marcos' dictatorship, lines have been blurred: political prisoners turn into apathetic politicians, communists turn into simple citizens, activists turn into satisfied common people. While Jimmy is not an ordinary citizen (he gets invitations to talk in shows and symposiums about his human rights activism), he has become stagnant and an idle believer in the supposed change (in one of the TV shows he guests in, he reveals his naive belief of the significant changes that the new administration has brought with it). He shares the same complacency with his wife. When Jimmy revisits the remote village where he used to fight, he personally witnesses that things have not changed. Learning that he has sired a son with his former sweetheart Esper (Gina Alajar), both of whom are being continually harassed by the newly released vigilantes, he has found a reason, personal and actual, to actually fight, but still remains an intellectual, a euphamism for being in the safe middle ground.

Orapronobis details how Jimmy finally realizes that his decision for quiet aggression and diplomatic means of fighting oppression will not work within a system that is so corrupt to its core. Citizens in the rural areas are not safe. They are being shot and harassed in areas where they are supposedly immune from harm, their homes and even the town church. Even the citizens are not safe in the city. Human rights workers are kidnapped and are never heard from again. Ambushes are frequent and people Jimmy and his wife become actual victims of what was previously mere news articles read in the newspapers.

The film is interesting because of that. The film's strength is its bravery to banish the myth that the People Power Revolution has espoused. The film's beauty is the fact that it depicts Corazon Aquino as inutile (although indirectly), wherein havoc is being wreaked by the little trickles of power that the woman president couldn't handle and shares with cultic vigilantes. That is also this film's weakness. Jimmy, the central character, is an uninteresting mess whose troubles and eternal unsureness keeps the film from achieving its potential in its political message.

Sure, Jimmy is more of a symbol rather than a complete character: He is the symbol of the ordinary Filipino who has become lax in the skin-deep safety the weak democracy has promised. It is only during the final ten minutes of the film where Jimmy becomes interesting. The moment he carries the dead body of his son and marches to the church (beautifully filmed by Brocka with quiet intensity). When he goes back home to see his sleeping wife and newly born baby, and finally opens the atache case where he kept his former comrade's gun and the piece of paper where he wrote that comrade's telephone number. Those final ten minutes are the meat of this film, and the only time wherein Jimmy becomes human rather than a mere symbol.


Aaron Aarons said...

Orapronobis hasn't, AFAIK, been released on DVD, but it was released (in the U.S., at least) on LaserDisc. A rip from that release (with English subtitles) can be downloaded at:
The longer DivX version, BTW, is of far better quality than the best MP4 version.

Incidentally, the killers shown at the beginning (and later) are, I'm pretty sure, paramilitaries and not the official military.

Aaron Aarons said...

A minor correction: The DivX version is larger (in filesize), not longer (in duration), than the MP4 versions.