Anak Dalita (Lamberto Avellana, 1956)
English Title: The Ruins
Before proceeding with the story, director Lamberto Avellana first allows his audience to immerse in the story's meticulously crafted setting which are the ruins of Manila Cathedral, bombed during the second World War and now temporary shelter to the several families displaced by the war and poverty. The ruins are at once an awesome and depressing sight. The remnants of the cathedral allude to a glorious past, yet the makeshift houses that dot the cathedral's steadfast walls are persistent reminders of the bleak present, where post-war crises continue to haunt the Philippines more than a decade after the second World War ended.
While survival within the walls of the ruined cathedral is daunting, it is most certainly not joyless. The cathedral is teeming with people, as we see during the first few minutes of the film, who have managed to eke a community out of the prevailing scarcity of economic resources. There's a spot for the barber whose lack of a decent stall is not hindrance in his commerce, a corner for the women who share tips and rumors while breastfeeding their babies, another corner for the drunkards who ease their pains with the temporary joys granted by alcohol. The setting provides for Avellana stable grounds to push poverty's dichotomy (the unjust absence of resources and necessities, tempered by the arising virtues of camaraderie and integrity as forced upon by their economic state), which altogether repulses and charms Vic (Tony Santos, Sr.), the war hero who returns to Manila and is forced to live within the ruined walls of the cathedral and among the people who have temporarily resided therein.
Anak Dalita (The Ruins) begins with Cita (Rosa Rosal), a prostitute residing in one of the makeshift houses in the squatter colony, strutting down the slums in carefree fashion, donning a dress that seems inappropriate in the slum's state of deprivation, revealing a bit of her cleavage and her shapely legs. the Against the overt images of extreme penury, her striking beauty and glamorous get-up seem scandalous and sinful. Everything changes when she arrives at her destination: a pitiful shanty that houses a dying old woman whose only wish is to see for the very last time her only son, a soldier who was sent to the Korean War. Vic, whose left arm was rendered useless by a war injury, returns to the Philippines a hero. His welcome is cut short when Cita's younger brother informs him of his mother's impending death. He rushes to his mother's shanty in the slums, greeted by Cita's emphatic stare and her mother's staggered breath. The mother inevitably dies, leaving Vic in the grips of despair as Cita struggles to give him hope and win his love.
Avellana stages the drama and the love story with a subtle emphasis of his carefully set-up milieu of extensive poverty and its difficult virtues. With their impending eviction from the cathedral to make way for its reconstruction, Vic is pushed to exchange sculpting statues for meager earnings for a more lucrative job under Carlo (Jose De Cordova), Vic's former war bud who has repackaged himself into a shady yet wealthy businessman. With the affronts of post-war life's hardships and Vic's hopeless situation, honest living becomes impractical. Thus, his eventual leaning towards Carlo's shady proposition of laundering money to Hong Kong by hiding it inside the statue of Mother Mary he sculpted for the parish priest (Vic Silayan) seems understandable, and his subsequent turnaround, aided by the clever and good-intentioned machinations of Cita, is laudible.
The final set-up, an action sequence where the cathedral's crumbling walls are as necessary as Vic and Carlo's gun-fighting adversaries, caps the film's moral drama with a thunderous jolt. Avellana showcases an adeptness for visualizing kinetic tension, something he'll again showcase the following year in a duel between Santos and Silayan, as Muslim combatants in pre-colonial Mindanao, in Badjao. Avellana's pencant for mixing action and romance in a suitably-characterized settings that enlarges the consequences of the simple narrative is well-pronounced here. Anak Dalita remains to be the quintessential Avellana film.