Hands Clean in Joel Lamangan’s Bakit May Kahapon Pa? (1996) July 28, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
English Title: Why Is There A Yesterday?
Directed by Joel Lamangan
Cast: Nora Aunor, Eddie Garcia, Dawn Zulueta
It happens in San Marco, Laguna in October 1971 – - a commanding troop led by Col. Valderrama guns down alleged members of a rebel group that the townspeople are said to help, they say with food and shelter to enable their continued activities against the government, but no one knows whether it is a hearsay or not because then the only messenger of truth is power – - and power lies in His hands – - thus innocence and counter-innocence are not issues, they are irrelevant, the nozzles only know that the people who will die are the bodies where they are pointed at, everyone becomes enemies of the state because of Fate, and Helen, who sees her mother and father shot by the soldiers like pigs incarcerated and butchered afterward, knows every detail of what happened – - she carries the weight of a parentless childhood without oblivion, she is now tainted by revenge, determined to get her fair share of complete life by killing the family members of her oppressor – - and now, consumed by painful memories and a taste of enemy’s blood, Helen exacts her plot, follows everything according to her plan, and lets her mind control her heart, with the constant evil deeply consuming her – - and it happens – - the remaining players of the past and present die, Helen and Col. Valderrama in one place, Marcos and the dregs of his regime – - explodes, and the credits roll.
What makes everything worthy of a cinematic postcard is that Helen is portrayed by Nora Aunor. Fresh from her Best Actress win in Cairo Film Festival with The Flor Contemplacion Story, also directed by Lamangan, Aunor proves that her “Superstar” status isn’t that easy to fade, considering that her fans are still as die-hard as ever, as narrated by Remoto and Zafra in their anecdotes during the film’s premiere night in 1996. I also had the same experience when Brocka’s Bona was screened in a festival last year; the theater was almost empty, save for a few patrons who kept on shouting every time Ate Guy is in close-up, which is more than half of the film’s length, and whenever she delivers a memorable line or action. Much to my hysteria when it ends – - when Bona splashes a bucketful of boiling water to her evil action star’s body as he bathes, Philip Salvador’s face screaming in pain – - every one of them shouts in great satisfaction, their idol closing the film in gratifying sadism. In Bakit May Kahapon Pa?, Aunor’s face is always shown deliberately to emphasize the demons inside her, the trauma of her past, the dimension of her present life eaten up by her painful quest for revenge. She has the knack for difficult roles – - the varying emotions of a woman imprisoned by her experiences, bordering on psychosis, the agony expressed just by simple facial expressions, each presents a dimension of that pain, making us understand her paranoia even more. Aunor does a fantastic job in bringing us inside the mind of a purposeful killer – - the psychology of darkness purported by man against his own race – - and her poisoned mind in suicide, killing itself for it knows that’s where everything leads.
It is absurd that the Film Ratings Board then criticized the film for its lack of redeeming value, that’s what I suppose after not giving it a B-rating for tax exemption – - how it ends in cynicism – - bleak denouement, almost hopeless. Again, like the case with MTRCB, there is no reason to argue with them – - the terms are against myself. Lamangan is an immensely flawed artist, as apparently shown in his recent films, but in his early works there lives a beguiling intention to deliver mastery, only it must be attributed to his style that it fails to manifest, the lack of subtlety, the preference of style to content, the heavy drama that forgets other important things. Bakit May Kahapon Pa? is heavy in flashback, it is almost where the entire film hangs its dramatic tension, but once you see Ate Guy with a gun, running with the loose screws of her head like a loony action star, isn’t that already enough fun for a two-hour film? * * *