Friday, October 27, 2006

Kisapmata (1982)

Kisapmata (Mike de Leon, 1982)
English Title: Blink of an Eye

The middle class house of the overbearing father (Vic Silayan) pretty much summarizes the intricacies of the character. The exterior is characterized by a steel gate and cement walls adorned by chicken wires. Instead of a lush flower garden, the vast unused space is turned into a pigpen where the retired police officer keeps his pet hogs. Elsewhere, the father also keeps an earthworm farm. He claims that a retired police officer should try to keep himself busy by tending to hogs and earthworms. I thought it was merely a clever excuse --- the earthworms, the hogs, even the poor household help are just receptacles of the excess amount of macho energy (in the form of the father's gripping overcontrolling nature) which simply can't be contained by the immediate members of his family, his common-law wife (Charito Solis) and his psychologically tortured daughter Mila (Charo Santos).

The interior of the house evidences the father's almost psychotic nature even more. Despite its normal-looking arrangement, the architecture is actually intricately plotted to serve the father's controlling reach over his family members. The daughter's room is directly across her parents' room on the second floor of the house. In the middle of the two rooms is the bathroom. Below the hall is the living room, which can clearly be seen from the kitchen. The telephone is directly below the parents' room. It's almost impossible for anybody to walk from one section of the house to another, or to even use the telephone, without the father knowing or at least hearing.

Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye) begins with Mila announcing to his father that she is getting married to her boyfriend Noel (Jay Ilagan). The daughter is clearly talking to the father, with barely a notice to the mother, always a background ornament to the overpowering patriarch. When the mother tries to speak out, it's always with a careful acknowledgment that what might come out of her mouth may have drastic repercussions. The mother's resignation of her role in the household (a mere proof that the father has sole control of everything that happens within the house and the family) creates an even more effective level of intensity to the events that ensue. Noel and Mila get married. Through devious means, the father is able to force them to stay at his house for a week, until Noel breaks and insists that he and Mila move out and live on their own. Noel's introduction to the household is a stirring circumstance that drives the father's familiar lordship over his household into a deliberately paced downfall into madness.

It's not merely Noel's invasion of the family's carefully structured status quo. The father is not one who bows down to societal institutions. He and his wife aren't married, which probably rationalizes why he doesn't regard Mila's marriage to Noel as an event that would free the daughter from the clutches of the father. The father is clearly a slave of alcohol --- he acknowledges his youthful looks to the fact that he exercises and can down a couple of beers every night. He tries to extend his control over Noel --- convincing him to down a couple of beers over one of his macho exploits as a cop, but when Noel declines and decides to tend to his wife instead, the father ridicules Noel as weak and wonders how he could've swayed his daughter into marriage. It is quite convincing that there is something more that boils beneath the father's controlling character --- it is not merely his patriarchal duty, or an abnormal excess of macho behavior. Mike de Leon seems to subtly reason a sexual perversity between the father and the daughter, and the fact that the daughter has fallen for a man who he thinks is inferior to him, is an attack to his machismo. When Noel successfully escapes with Mila to the provincial town of Los Banos, we first witness the father crying --- a devastating acknowledgment that an indelible damage to his masculinity has been caused by the daughter's disobedience and Noel's winning over his calculated designs.

Kisapmata is de Leon's masterpiece. Hitchcock is an obvious influence. The film's score mirrors Psycho's famous shower murder scene. It seems that de Leon fashions the house as a Filipino Bates motel. The normal-looking house is shot like the infamous hotel, from outside; the unassuming building towering even so with the knowledge that a monster is jealously guarding its occupants. The father looks from the front window with a keen eye of a vulture; the same way Norman Bates would observe the occupants of his inn.

Yet the creepy thing about Kisapmata is that the events are all too real, unlike Hitchcock's Psycho wherein the murderer is merely haunted by a domineering yet dead mother. In Kisapmata, the machinations of the father is not extended from the grave, but from real and lethal threats. It is clear that the characters in de Leon's film are real human beings --- they work, they interact with other people, they have needs and ambitions. It is that factor that turns this nightmare even far more chilling than Hitchcock's masterpiece. The subject house looks ordinary, and the father is actually quite charming and doting, but you instantly know that there is something deeper than mere insanity or psychotic behavior or point blank notions of evil that is at work here. The corruption that is detailed in Kisapmata extends from the uncomfortably intimate quarrels in the subject household, but to the fact that this form of patriarchal family is not totally alien to Filipino culture, and probably elsewhere.


Garsh said...

I am totally blown away by this film. I hope we can make movies like we used to.

Anonymous said...

it is nice that we're having same sentiments about the movie, the way it was one was an exceptional art of showing what is really happening in the reality... both creative and critical, i, myself, am challenged to assess th film...hail filipino writers...

Anonymous said...

the movie was exceptional, both creative and critical

FilmWalrus said...

Great review! This and other things I've read have me very interested in Mike de Leon's work. Do you know where I could get a copy of this with English subs?