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Great Ruins in Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita (1956) September 20, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi.
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English Title: The Ruins
Directed by Lamberto Avellana
Written by Rolf Bayer
Cast: Rosa Rosal, Tony Santos, Vic Silayan, Joseph de Cordova

The death that marks the beginning and end of Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita presupposes the plight of the poor with shrewd observation. Vic (Tony Santos), a dignified veteran of the Korean War, comes home only to find out that his ailing mother is dying. He runs home and rushes to her bed, and she recognizes his face. As if it’s the only thing she is waiting before crossing the realm of afterlife, she screams, lays her head on the side, and dies in his arms. Vic turns himself in to depression, driving away the concern of people around him, including his mother’s friend Cita (Rosa Rosal).

Following Cita in the opening shot of the film gives her such importance, but her vagueness in relation to Vic’s life is somehow questionable. It provides an interesting hook to follow, for it seems that most of us relate to the old ways on how Filipinos show their kindness, the bayanihan idea so to speak, the one-for-all, all-for-one among members of the same community. That’s how they become close – – reaching out and allowing himself to be reached – – through his past and her present which he tries to fit in. I admire how Bayer meticulously writes his tale without the tempting easy way out of romanticizing their poverty, how it moves from confronting the difficulties of their present lives, their arguments about Tita’s work as a hostess in the bar, Vic’s paralyzed arm which limits him from getting a fair job, the interplay of patriarchal and erotic affections between the two, the heaven and hell of living on the same house, that concocted consent to commitment, into a web of social predicaments, his participation in smuggling a crime, the pitfalls of a comfortable life, the half-hearted conscience, and the death of Cita’s brother Ipe, which mirrors the loss of Vic’s mother – – both losses that are shared, and the grief that only the two of them could feel.

It is great how Avellana manages to let its location participate in the story. Anak Dalita is set in the slums of Intramuros, now only worthy of a greek postcard because most of them are ruins, where on the side there stood buildings of commerce and urban settlers who are fighting for space in colonial history. Then, it is a place for the poor; now, it is a sanctuary of poor pasts. People used to live there before – – now only memories of a lost time, bittersweet longings of what has then been called hopefulness beyond pain. Poverty, contrary to what soap operas are feeding us, is a happy way of life.

It may fall under the Western school of neorealism – – the way its theme is presented, its use of townspeople as actors, the tone, the underlying statement, even its reliance on faith in the end – – but I refuse to recognize it as such. Instead, I find Avellana’s take on social realism unique, an admirable Filipino contribution to post-war cinema.

More than a love team, Rosa Rosal and Tony Santos’s pair is a representation of many face(t)s of love. Theirs is enduring because it is mature, it shows intellect, and it braves the common legions of formula. Their hearts not only follow what they feel but also consult their minds, which is something that contemporary love teams lack – – common sense. It is difficult to dismiss their greatness just by calling them old – – those three films they shared together, Anak Dalita, Badjao, and Biyaya ng Lupa, wouldn’t be as lauded as they are today without Rosal and Santos’s unmistakable talent – – in the same way it is hard to criticize their performances individually, for they stand together, they pass off as one, and yet they are stars in their own right. Vic Silayan plays the town priest, a supporting role that deserves to be mentioned because my initial idea of him is that of evil, my memories of him being the madding father in Kisapmata, and I perceive his role here as something that I should doubt about, but to no avail. Joseph de Cordova and Vic Bacani are awesome supporting players as well. Watch out for the gripping conclusion and find out why a film more than fifty years ago is much more thrilling than most of the flicks released today, which despite their heaviness on effects to marvel our eyes are still downright boring and senseless in comparison.

I must say that Anak Dalita is the most beautifully scored Filipino film I had ever seen, its music cradles everything like a proud mother, it provides perfect spaces to allow the story to breathe in and out, and it gives the film a lot of life. So much for keeping up with time, the yonder years are asking me where the poetry in poems or the magic in sorcery has gone to. Are they kept away from us like this one?

*Anak Dalita is one of the films screened in Sine Klasiks: Mga Natatanging Pelikula ni Rosa Rosal, along with Badjao, Biyaya ng Lupa, and Sakada, held in Robinson’s Movieworld Galleria from September 17-23.

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