Adultery (Aida Macaraeg Case No. 7892) (Lino Brocka, 1984)
Adultery (Aida Macaraeg Case No. 7892) is not one of filmmaker Lino Brocka's best works. It definitely cannot be lined alongside masterpieces like Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed But Found Wanting, 1974), Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975), and Insiang (1976). At best, Adultery is a well-made melodrama that puts a social issue, that of marital infidelity as escape from poverty, at the center of its affairs. Jose Javier Reyes' well-crafted screenplay (the story is credited to Aida Sevilla Mendoza) is supposedly sourced from a real life account, but one wonders if convenient happy endings (which the film unfortunately struggles with) exist in these kind of cases, especially ones as emotionally charged as in the film. In the Philippines, adultery cases stretch for years and any emotion resembling marital love and concern is replaced with scorching hate, the primary ingredient that fuels litigation.
Aida (Vilma Santos giving a very mature performance) is the sole breadwinner for her family, consisting of a bedridden father, a nagging mother, a good-for-nothing brother, his unemployed wife and baby. Unable to bear the hardships of living with her family, she takes the offer of her boyfriend Carding (Phillip Salvador) to simply live together, resisting his invitation to marry him despite the possible scandal that might arise out of their living arrangement. Carding gets caught peddling prohibited drugs and gets imprisoned, leaving Aida all alone to fend for herself. Years later, Carding gets released from prison and finds Aida, now a mistress of a wealthy executive (Mario Montenegro) and mother to a child that is not his. Aida is then sued for adultery by Carding, which if she is proven guilty would separate her from her son.
There's one sequence in the film which clearly shows Brocka's mastery. Aida visits Carding in prison, telling him of her pregnancy. Carding again offers to marry her, fearing that their child would be a bastard child. Supposedly out of pity, Aida agrees. The marriage is solemnized then and there. The prison chaplain officiates the ceremony where Aida is draped in an ordinary dress while Carding wears the orange colored uniform. Around are the witnesses of their marriage, felons all donning the same orange outfit Carding is wearing. Of course, these are mere background details, emphasizing the sullenness of the event that is ordinarily jovial and lively. Brocka concentrates on Aida. He closes up on her face, worried about the uncertainty of her future: she is after all pregnant and now married to a convict with absolutely no source of income. It is Aida's point of no return and Brocka understands it as such, thus he presents it with understated elegance; no dialogue, just Lutgardo Labad's swelling music and Brocka's emphatic close-up of Vilma Santos' apprehensive face.
The film attempts to criticize marriage, which is depicted not in its traditional sense (as the key to life's bliss) but as a harrowing cage where women are left with no choices. It seems to advocate infidelity, especially when the requirements of life overtakes the facile concerns of societal and religious norms. Interestingly, Brocka does not antagonize any of his characters. Aida is a hardworking woman who we first see as the selfless sufferer who is charged with her family's survival, a mere victim of fate and circumstance. Also, one cannot doubt Carding's affection for Aida. His decisions in life may have been off, leading to his incarceration and Aida's continuing suffering, but it is clear that his love for his wife is indubitable. The blame does not go to any person but to the social institution that is marriage, its sometimes shallow roots and the unbendable veneration the law and society gives to it to the detriment of the unique needs of individuals.
I am impressed as to how Brocka directed the courtroom sequence, without the usual pomp and unnecessary drama. The courtroom sequence gives the impression as to how the justice is bookish and blind to personal plights. One lawyer asks Aida a question, and she shies away saying that the question is too personal. Of course, the judge demands that she answer the question, which she does unwillingly. In the eyes of the law, emotions, circumstance, fate, and needs are denied materiality and relevance. Under the law, Aida is guilty and deserves the penalty that would have been dealt to her. This should have been the instance wherein we'll fall for Aida's plight: that despite her being guilty for adultery, she does not deserve to be punished for she was merely forced to infidelity not by an innate evil but by circumstances that are uncontrollable in her life. However, instead of dishing out an ending that would operate as the culmination of such criticism, Brocka and Reyes decided to succumb to sentimentality. Husband forgives wife. Wife gets her son back. Everybody's satisfied. Unfortunately, reality, which the film tried so hard to emulate, isn't anything like that.