Friday, November 15, 2013

Lilet (1971)

Gerardo de Leon's Lilet: Patriarchy as Nightmare

They know her. She doesn’t know them. Lilet (Celia Rodriguez) enters her family’s mansion with dread and suspicion. Each object is a trap. Each face is a mystery. A victim of severe amnesia, her only linkage to an obscured past is fear. Her mother (Paraluman) welcomes her with grave hesitation. Her grandmother (Tita Munoz), a striking woman despite her being constrained within a wheelchair, and her father (Vic Silayan), meet her with evident dismay. After a short reintroduction that evokes anonymity rather than delight, she is dismissed.

That night, she becomes a woman on the verge of insanity. She hears a familiar voice repeatedly calling out her name. A mysterious machine chugs, adding to the cacophony that seem to force demons out of her enclosed memories. A masked man with a pair of scissors suddenly appears to haunt her. She is unsafe in her own home. Screaming, she sprints away from the mansion, before a car nearly runs her over. Out of the car is her knight in shining armor, Edgar (Ronaldo Valdez), her doctor and savior from all the horrors that seem to debilitate her.

Gerardo de Leon’s Lilet is repetitive in the way it portrays its titular character as a woman on the edge, desperately clinging on the remaining shreds of lucidity while everything around her pushes her to insanity. De Leon, a medical doctor prior to becoming a director, shows a very astute understanding of mental suffering. While he exploits Rodriguez’s peculiar features when in the state of shock to visualize shock, he nevertheless utilizes logic in injecting fear into his disturbed protagonist.

The film, surprisingly produced by businessman-turned-evangelizer Mike Velarde, is astoundingly vivid in its depiction of mental torture. Set mostly within the mansion that takes the form of a cage gilded by expensive but overwhelming trappings, the film is greatly reliant on De Leon’s ability to visualize terror. He maps Lilet’s descent to madness with clarity, creating ominousness out of ordinary everyday things and noises.

Beneath Lilet’s gothic surface however is something more disturbing. Lilet is after all a film about women who despite familial ties are all too willing to inflict mental torture on fellow women all in the name of love. The love that is the center of the film’s depravity is in fact even more depraved. De Leon paints the incest that happens so often within the mansion with a certain flair that makes it even more terrifying than the triggers that force Lilet to hysterics. Subtle gestures grow into devastating revelations, exposing a very rotten core that may not be endemic to Lilet’s melodramatic family.

Although Silayan’s father figure is pathetic, the bare fact that he is the sole man in the mansion forces all the women in the household to fight for his attention. His mother lusts for him. His wife begs for his forgiveness. His daughter struggles for his attention. Every other man is competition, whether it is his son or the doctor who sways Lilet’s attention from him. Patriarchy is the original sin here. The rest are just projections of a horrifically skewed perception of a societal wrong. With Lilet, De Leon has woven a nightmare straight out of reality.

(First published in Rappler.)

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