Sunday, November 25, 2007

Adultery (Aida Macaraeg Case No.7892) (1984)

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.


Anonymous said...

What about reality? What does one know about reality at 25?

Oggs Cruz said...

The reality that hurt husbands do not just forgive and forget, the reality that sentimentality are almost always thrown out the window in passionate litigation such as the one in the movie. True, there have been cases where offended party would condone the erring party, but at the very last minute when the judge is about to give sentence, without the knowledge of his lawyer at least? That's freedom of cinema for you which is always forgiveable but in a film wherein Brocka has stuck to realism from the first minute, it feels inconsistent and unreal.

Lastly, what can one not know about reality at 25? Why do I feel that only those who have reached a certain age can discern and have impressions of what is real and what is not?

Anonymous said...

Hi Oggs,

I see where you're coming from but this movie is mid 1980's. This is about the time when many pinoys have scattered all over the world, seeking a better life for their families left back home. Who knows what sacrifices they make and hardships they suffer. Their plight is not much different from the situation in this movie. I think the ending is not unrealistic. The message is even appropriate: To Forgive the sins of those who sacrifice for our sake.

In addition, I do not agree that "in the eyes of the law emotions, circumstance, fate and needs are denied materiality and relevance." It is precisely these factors that bring about, if not inspire intent and motivation for which a crime is committed and consequently, judged.

And, it is not what one can not know about reality at 25. It is how much and what realities one can know at that age.

Oggs Cruz said...

I'll take your word for it.

But I don't see the difference between the Filipinos then and the Filipinos now. I'm not saying the message is inappropriate, forgiveness is always very moralistic. For me, the ending is still unrealistic and hurried. It is precisely the fact that one has waited for so long keeping the hope that a spouse has been faithful only to have known that she has lied and had a son with another man (especially seeing her living the life with a maid, a car, and the time to watch movies, even avoiding him) that inflicts psychological turmoil to inspire litigation. Heck, that's why we have the adultery as a criminal offense in the first place: because infidelity causes such emotional pain that spouses are urged to ask the courts for punishment. Forgiveness (or condonation, in legal terms) is possible but the way Brocka and Reyes directed it (through an impassioned speech by Vilma and that sudden change of heart by Phillip) is why I said it was unrealistic and perhaps a betrayal of the very engaging commentary on marital relationships and how it suffocates people living impoverished lives. The film is not a product of its era, the law hasn't changed, poverty hasn't changed, marriage hasn't changed, and watch the news, visit courtrooms, court cases haven't changed. Perhaps Brocka and Reyes desired to go the inspiring way, that forgiveness is the penultimate balm for all society's woes, but I find that a disservice to the very adamantly portrayed realities it showed us early on and hence, my lukewarm appreciation for the film (precisely due to the ending).

As to your disagreement to my statement about the law, let's stick to what the film showed us. Watch the sequences again (and I believe those were very good scenes since it put melodramatics to a minimum) and observe how the lawyers and the judges acted, they did not care for their respective witnesses, they'll squeeze any information (heck, without acknowledging the circumstances that may lead to understanding their plights further) from them just to arrive to a point that either Aida is guilty or has good reasons to fuck around (which if you read the Revised Penal Code, adultery does not have exceptions, if you fuck around while you're married, you're going to jail). The judge will not base his decision on emotions or circumstance, he'll base it on what the law provides unless he wants to be sued for another crime (knowingly rendering an erroneous judgment). Again, scan the newspapers from 1984 up to now, you'll find thieves who steal because they're poor, they still get punishment. If the judge in the movie had the opportunity to render judgment, it would be guilty because the law is harsh and bookish that way. But since the message is plain forgiveness (and if it is, I should have just read the bible or stuck to watching Batibot) in the midst of severe infidelity, then so be it.

As to the age issue, I'm sorry to say my capacity for reality is the same as any adult person. One does not need to be of a certain age to know the hardships of life, one sees it everyday and one is definitely urged by it everyday.

But really, thanks for the comment. It makes me glad that there are less cynics in this world than I'm used to.