Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos (1988)

Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos (Lino Brocka, 1988)
English Title: God is Still Asleep

In 1988, director Lino Brocka released two very different films: his more popular and recognized Macho Dancer and Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos (God is Still Asleep), a Seiko Films-funded melodrama. While Macho Dancer was outrightly dismissive of the overreaching arms of poverty towards the populace --- forcing men plucked out of their provinces to strip and gyrate their bodies in front of dozens of lustful eyes for a buck, Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos is more subversive --- using the commercial trappings of your everyday melodrama to surface the corruption of the huge social and economic divide in the Philippines. Brocka's social commentary here is probably as potent as those done by Douglas Sirk.

The film starts with a bar room brawl. Bernardo (Dante Rivero) forces bar hostess Patria (Gina Pareno) to quit her job out of jealousy --- and promises to marry her. With the blessings of Bernardo's employers (Ricky Belmonte and Marita Zobel), Patria moves in to the small house beside the couple's property. Patria and the mistress of the house both got pregnant at the same time. Knowing that he will not be able to provide a future for their future son, Bernardo switches his and his master's baby, only sharing that terrible secret with his wife, who disdainly agrees to the plan. The two babies grow up not knowing that they were switched at birth --- Andrew (Ricky Davao) believes he's the only son of the wealthy couple while Gillian (Lorna Tolentino) suffers through the rigors and the tortures of her meager life, furthermore burdened by the frequent abuses of Patria.

It's a ridiculous plot; one that is not strange to the melodrama-trained psyche of the Filipino. However, Brocka handles the plot with impressionable intimacy and intensity. Gillian's sufferings and pains are portrayed with a discomforting passion (Brocka's story is not very different from that of Gillian's; After the death of his father, he spent a portion of his childhood with an aunt who maltreated him). Gina Pareno inhabits the role of Patria with skill; when she dotes her real offspring Andrew, it's both heartbreaking (the fact that she only loves her child from a distance) and displeasing (since that doting is to the disadvantage of the already pitiful Gillian). Pareno's Patria is both maternal and vicious, both erringly heroic and pathetic. She spies from afar how Andrew celebrates his first birthday (without her). You can't help but understand Patria's plea; it's a difficult decision she had to make or was forced to make (probably out of Bernardo's cooked-up designs, or the fact that her upbringing dictates that she act that way (basic maternal instincts exclusively for those children out of her womb), or that the impossibly huge social and economic divide has turned the poor into juvenile savages (true, politically incorrect --- just like the film).

It's that ridiculous plot that got me to think that despite all the technical inconsistencies (I guess Brocka had to make use of Seiko Films' team of technicians thus the very generic look of the film), the tepid third half (the film got bad when Gary Valenciano's character was introduced, and everything became nice and dandy), it's the more poignant film out of the two 1988 Brocka releases (yes, even more poignant than men who are forced to dance and gyrate in seedy gay clubs). It's relevance may be overshadowed by its commercial trappings, but Brocka relays his point quite convincingly --- that parents have given up on ever climbing the social ladder, that they'd sacrifice knowing their children are being raised without them just to provide a future for them. Brocka portrays the wealthy couple as kindhearted and understanding; but that's a given since they have nothing to worry about but their own personal lives. Brocka critically paints Bernardo and Patria; infuses them with a very human objective that jars (which shouldn't supposed to) with their social status.

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