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    Insiang (1976): Movie Review

    "A sensitive portrayal of a vengeful daughter in the slums.” 

    A young woman in the slums seeks revenge in Insiang, the 1976 masterpiece of Philippine’s renowned film-maker Lino Brocka. Considered as one of the best in Philippine cinema, the film was screened at the Classics section in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Set in a troublesome political and socioeconomic landscape, the melodramatic realism explores the pathos and weakness of a society and its people agonized by poverty, violence and hopelessness. 

    Insiang opens with a disturbing detail of how pigs are dressed for meat production in a dark, squalid abattoir. After a heedless stab from Dado (Ruel Vernal) the matadero, the pitiful animal is then bled out to death. Carcasses are then immersed in a vat of boiling water before being prepared for cutting. Such gruesome scene, complete with the pig’s gruelling outcry and spill of blood, simply foreshadows what is living like in the slums of Tondo, a shantytown in Manila glamorized in the background by the enigmatic Smokey Mountain, the dumping ground of the metropolis. In one of its dingy makeshift dumps lives the titular heroine (Hilda Koronel) whose beauty and innocence make her prey to both men and circumstances.

    The movie then proceeds with clips of Tonia (Mona Lisa), Insiang’s mother, going through her daily routine as a vendor in the marketplace. After her husband’s departure, some of his relatives from the province, who earlier ventured to the big city in search of job and opportunities, are still staying in Tonia’s dilapidated house and she is bitter and angry about it. Totally fed up, Tonia drives them off scandalously.

    This leaves Insiang as the sole absorber of Tonia’s rage. Tonia consistently criticizes her and calls her filthy names, probably because a number of young men are attracted to Insiang. One of which is Bebot (Rez Cortez), a badass pretty boy who is only interested in de-flowering her. Another is Narding (Marlon Ramirez), a storekeeper’s brother who is too timid to express his feelings towards the maiden. To complete the picture, Dado, who happens to be her mother’s lover, moves in with them.

    Dado, known as a tough macho guy and a chronic gambler in the neighborhood, soon becomes bored with his sexual exploits with Tonia and beings eyeing Insiang. Fortunately for him, Dado rapes Insiang. The lady runs to her boyfriend, Bebot, but his promise of elopement turns out to be a one-night stand in a motel. Returning to dangerous waters, Insiang plots her revenge by using the very people who hurt her.

    Stories of revenge, particularly of a disadvantaged girl, are nothing new in cinemas. They follow the same formula, employing similar plot twists and turns. However, director Brocka masterfully reinvents such banal material by placing the main characters in unforgiving cultural and socio-economic framework that not only adds power and richness but only reinforces all motivations, behaviours, and action-reaction dynamics. It’s a closed trap and the only way out is by cold-bloodedly using whatever and whoever is at hand.

    Insiang is basically the center of the story, an innocent girl lusted by men and hated by her mother, a hatred supposedly directed to her ex-husband. She shares a vicious love-hate relationship with her mother Tonia. Such destructive sense has been lingering from the very beginning, only further aggravated and brought to the open by the arrival of Dado in their lives. Raped by Dado, scorned by her mother, and rejected by her lover, Insiang only wants to strike back, refusing an easier option via another man’s marriage proposal. As it turns out, Insiang’s deceitful and deadly vengeance proves she can be as lewd, scheming and malevolent as her mother, or even worse. The film’s final act tries to tie the severed mother-daughter bond as Insiang gives her apology to Tonia. In a more realistic fashion, the movie provides a heart-breaking conclusion. While Tonia does not give her absolution, perhaps because she wants to make her daughter believe she did the right thing, Insiang finds it in her heart that she does not really want her mother’s forgiveness.

    Director Brocka is also brutally honest in depicting the endemic urban poverty in the Philippines, an unpleasant landscape shaped by the country’s deeply-rooted cultural and political mechanics. He renders an intense social realism, satirical at heart, mocking government’s apparent apathy and society’s nonchalance to such economic situation. The portrayal is vivid and specific like the opening bloodbath, the crowded streets with both adults and children running around, the shanty clutters with its mosquito nets and grimy kitchen wares, and even the absence of decent toilet room. The sounds and noise are also spot-on such as the squeals of the butchered pigs and the endless gossips and hateful words of idling neighbors. This socio-economic oppression breeds anger, violence and desperation, further worsened by the community’s lack of solid action to change the status quo. As Dado simply puts it, he is a man and he is vulnerable to whatever presented to him.

    Both Lisa and Koronel are stellar in their roles. While Lisa effectively projects the resentments and fears of the insufferable Tonia, Koronel gives an impressive performance as a young lady who transitioned from a sweet, caring soul to a cunning femme fatale. 

    Insiang is a sensitively genuine delineation of the life in the slums. With metaphorical resonance, the heroine’s strife mirrors that of every individual whose every action is dictated by his or her socioeconomic landscape.

    Production company: Cinemanila Corporation 
    Cast: Hilda Koronel, Mona Liza, Ruel Verna, Rez Cortez, Marlon Ramirez 
    Director:Lino Brocka 
    Screenwriter: Mario O’Hara, Lamberto E. Antonio  
    Producer: Ruby Tiong Tan 
    Director of photography: Conrado Baltazar, F.S.C. 
    Editor: Augusto Salvador 
    Music: Minda D. Azarcon


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