Monday, December 12, 2011

Alkitrang Dugo (1976)

Alkitrang Dugo (Lupita Aquina-Kashiwahara, 1976)
English Translation: Asphalt Blood

Alkitrang Dugo, the Nora Aunor-produced and Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara-directed adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, opens with a plane crash, with schoolchildren rushing out of the crash site. In the beach, Luis (Eddie Villamayor), one of the kids finds a conch shell and blows it to signal his location. This causes all the other survivors, all children, to form into the beach, where they initially start a community under the leadership of Luis.

As they figure out that coconuts and seawater cannot sustain them for long, the group venture into the jungle. They establish roles for themselves and create rules to dictate their lives. However, Luis’ self-appointment as leader does not sit well with Andy (Roderick Paulate), which leads to voting, legitimizing Luis’ leadership by a short margin. As the children become familiar with their new home, jealousies form, power struggles react, and the community disintegrates into abject chaos.

Aquino-Kashiwahara directs the film with very capable hands. Interestingly, the film depicts very male-centric relations, with struggles and conflicts resulting from the very primal need for supremacy. Yet Aquino-Kashiwahara deftly interprets these struggles and conflicts with the understanding of how a male mind works, how that primal need usually overlaps human logic.

It is a surprisingly vicious film. Its portrayal of the children trapped suddenly in that difficult demand to remain civilized under dire circumstances is never held hostage by the traditional depiction of children as innocent and naive creatures. In Alkitrang Dugo, children are forced to cheat, lie, and kill, not for survival, but more alarmingly, for power. Even more alarming is that this viciousness is not a solitary effort. Disguised as forms of community and society, it is scarily contagious.

Lutgardo Labad’s intelligent scoring rightfully deserves mention. From the Aunor-belted title song that sets the tone for the film’s slow but sure descent towards man’s innate capability for evil to the repetitive melodies that add atmosphere to the ominous forest that eclipses these children’s supposed naiveté, the film’s music becomes a character itself, growing in depth and viciousness. When the score erupts into the children’s repeated chant, calling for violence towards both nature and Luis, the film burrows straight into the dark heart of humanity, the same heart that enables us to be vile and violent.

The film follows Golding’s narrative faithfully enough to be considered a direct adaptation of the classic novel. Translated into a distinctly Filipino setting, where class differences are evident, romantic entanglements aggravate, and politics is vulnerable, the story takes a different form from what Golding intended it to be.

Golding’s clear-cut allegories become more specific. Alkitrang Dugo targets the heart of what is possibly wrong with how the Philippines is governed, how its so-called democracy is destructive because its stakeholders do not have the maturity to understand and utilize it, how the Marcos’ regime seemingly fascist society contributes to a Philippines of infantile citizenry. Aquino-Kashiwahara’s criminally underseen film is attention-calling and disturbing because despite its literary roots, it points fingers towards a gnawing reality that can no longer be ignored. It is as resonant now as it was when it was first released.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

1 comment:

Ian Snyderman said...
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