The films of Joel Lamangan were always a homage to the Philippines film master Lino Brocka. Lamangan's Flower Of Manila references Brocka and while it doesn't emulate the master, it at least turns in two good performances. Noel Vera reviews.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

If you want an example of character ambiguity, take a look at this significant Metro Manila Film Festival entry, Bulaklak ng Maynila (Flower Of Manila), from a story by Doming Landicho, directed by Joel Lamangan. I can’t say that Bulaklak is a particularly accomplished film - it’s edited in a poorly executed jump-cut style, like Wong Kar-Wai with a bad case of hiccups, and (despite using actual locations in and around Quiapo) fails to evoke the stench of street-level poverty, the way Lino Brocka’s films effortlessly do.

Jomari Yllana never could act (and on the evidence of this film, never will), and Angelu De Leon in the title role is an unsexy, unappealing, totally unexciting actress (ironic, considering that her character becomes a nightclub stripper). But Elizabeth Oropesa is very good (and, incidentally, extremely sexy) as the girl’s mother, and Christopher De Leon gives a powerhouse performance as Oropesa’s lover and Angelu’s adoptive father.

I can’t even begin to suggest how good Christopher is in this film; he seems to have abandoned most of the mannerisms and acting tics he’s acquired over the years and developed an unsettlingly edgy, bleary-eyed presence - as if he had a perpetual hangover, with sociopath temper to match. As baranggay captain, De Leon has a finger in every pie - he collects bribes from all the businesses, all the way down to the street vendors, at the same time he’s the local judge and summary executioner.

Taking a page out of Insiang, Brocka’s masterpiece, he makes love to Oropesa, then casts a hungry eye towards Oropesa’s daughter. Yet De Leon is not a total monster: he cares for his father (Tony Mabesa), and his initial offer that Oropesa live with him seems motivated as much by concern for her as by lust for her. Bulaklak’s characters are ultimately reduced to shrieking caricatures and its climax is borrowed from yet another Brocka work, Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag (Manila In The Eyes Of Neon) - but the first three-fourths of the picture makes for compelling drama, at least, and is alive with living, breathing people.

There’s a kind of arrogance in spending 40 million pesos on a film like Muro-ami - the same kind that puts 120 million pesos on a Rizal film. I actually like their arrogance; it’s what we need to break out of the tailspin our local film industry is in - what we need to make a truly great Filipino film. The only thing wrong is that their arrogance is yoked to strictly conventional, by-the-numbers filmmaking and not to a true vision.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are such things as great producers - Robert Evans (who was never known for his humility) was responsible for films like Chinatown and The Godfather 1 & 2; he just needed filmmakers like Roman Polanski and Francis Coppola to help do them. Having made millions off of Jose Rizal and Muro-ami, the producers of said pictures should (in the spirit of said arrogance) take a real risk, and put their money where the art is.

Note: Businessworld, January 7, 2000. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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