Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bona (1980)

Bona (Lino Brocka, 1980)

The titular character (Nora Aunor) of Lino Brocka's film Bona has an irrational devotion for a bit player in action movies, Gardo (Philip Salvador). Brocka and screenwriter Cenen Ramones do not bother to give us details as to how Bona has suddenly worshiped Gardo, except in one instance wherein Bona returns late and her father scolds her. The father tells Bona that she was just given an autographed photograph of the bit player, and she that caused the uncontrollable obsession over him. This lack of background is an arguable point for critique as it turns the character into a masochistic woman whose servitude is obtained for free and is even repayed with cruelty and Gardo's unintentional sadism.

After spending a night tending to an injured Gardo, Bona goes home and incurs her father's wrath. She decides to leave her family for good and live with Gardo, exchanging the comforts of her middle-class household with the slums of Tondo where Gardo resides. Yet the slums is actually paradise compared to the interiors of Gardo's house where Bona is treated literally like a dog. He beds with numerous women expecting the adoring Bona to merely accept that fact. He actually considers Bona's staying with him as the latter's debt of gratitude, despite the unconditional loyalty and service she has given to the immature bit player. Outside, Bona's middle-class roots is appreciated. She tutors her neighbors' children, gets food and provisions under generous credit, and her conditions are benevolently guarded over by a kindhearted Nilo (Nanding Josef).

The plot is merely a series of vignettes of Bona's sacrifices intertwined with scenes of slum-living. When the plot does move forward, Brocka is uncharacteristically controlled and rejects typical melodrama tropes to justify narrative motion. Aunor handles her character with much pathos giving the mysteriously devoted fanatic a believable human face. Salvador is tall and brooding compared to the short-framed Aunor. The couple actually looks quite odd when together. Salvador mestizo looks overshadows Aunor's more Filipino facial features. The male bit player towers over the female fan. The actors' physical differences emphasize the politics that happens within Gardo's shanty. Bona can't do anything but be obedient in absolute awe and respect to Gardo. It's can probably be seen as symbolic of the involuntary aftereffect of the Philippines' experience with colonial rule.

The film is masterfully made. Brocka exhibits bravura editing skills. He relishes in the long moments just capturing the day-to-day experiences of slum-dwelling, the same way he relishes in capturing the day-to-day sacrifices that Bona has to make culminating in an ending that can easily be described as timeless. Conrado Baltazar's cinematography is, as always, exquisite. His camera captures impoverished Tondo with acute tenderness as compared to the usually dark and dilapidated interiors of Gardo's shanty. Max Jocson's music lends an incongruent rhythm to the lives of the slum dwellers.

The question remains: Why did middle-class Bona reject her comfortable life to become a mere servant to a bit-player? It's an irrational impulse that creates a huge implausible hole in the titular character. There is really no answer to that question and one just has to impress upon oneself that the character is indeed irrational, and at the same time completely human.

We first see Bona among the crowds that follow the procession of the Black Nazarene in the courtyard of the Quiapo Church. The procession is a yearly event that claims the lives of those who are trampled by the stampede caused by the thousands of religious devouts who violently scramble towards the image of the Black Nazarene to get blessed. Just outside the imposing church are billboards of the latest films that are showing in the local cinemas. We see Bona is sandwiched between the church procession and the cinemas with its rousing billboards. Brocka seems to be connecting the irrational loyalty and obedience of the Filipino people to the irrational traditions of a Spanish-imposed Catholicism and with fanaticism. In the opening shot, we see thousands of people scrambling around the carriage carrying the image of the Black Nazarene: each and every one of these people, not including the several millions more around the Philippines who are similarly situated, are like Bona, ready to subject themselves to inhumanity to be graced by a scrape of divinity.


digitalburyong said...

Love the ending - - I still cannot forget Salvador's arrogant face in pain, screaming - - clever use of boiling water too as a device. By the way, I'm sure you've heard 'bout the Martin-Alix film inspired by Jaguar and Manila By Night. It looks promising - - though I am not sure about Piolo's versatility; I hope he can pull it off.

Oggs Cruz said...

I agree, Bona's great. I'm excited about Manila, not really because of Piolo but because I'm curious as to how Martin would attack it, and Alix too. And the concept's great: an alternate universe where Brocka's characters interact.

Agnes Tse said...

How can I find this film? Any DVD?