ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged And Found Wanting, 1974) was in
many ways a seminal work in contemporary Philippine cinema. It was
one of the rare quality films of the 70s to enjoy commercial
success. It announced Lino Brocka, previously known as a skillful
commercial director, as a major Filipino artist.
Few realized the significance
of this bright new voice, that it would be the first of many - Mike
de Leon, with Itim (Black, 1976); Mario OHara with
Mortal (1975); Brocka again, with Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag
(Manila In The Claws Of Neon, 1975), to name a few. Contemporary
and putative rival Ishmael Bernal had actually debuted two years
earlier with the masterfully assured Pagdating sa Dulo (At
The Top, 1972), but that film, despite its excellence, made little
impact on the industry. Tinimbang was like a rock flung through
a plate-glass window; the film was a herald call, officially the
first in what was to be called the 70s Golden Age of Philippine
tells the story of Junior (Christopher de Leon), son of Cesar
(Eddie Garcia), the richest man in town. Junior lives a relatively
happy life; he stays in a huge house, hes popular and good-looking,
his sweetheart, Evangeline (Hilda Koronel), is the prettiest girl
in school. Then Juniors life unravels: his father turns out
to be an incurable lecher; his girlfriend is caught with another
boy and summarily married off; Junior himself is seduced by Milagros
(Laurice Guillen), the bastard child of the town mayor. Junior is
driven to find comfort among the towns outcasts - in Kuala,
a crazed homeless woman, and her lover, Berto the leper.
realizes that everyone around him - from the loutish youths he calls
his friends to the wizened old women he calls his aunts - are ignoramuses,
hypocrites, spiritual grotesques. The film ends with Junior acting
out the action described by the films title - he stares at
every town folk in the eye, judges them, and finds them all wanting.
dramatic moment, and Brocka invests it with near-Biblical significance,
as if Junior were some young Christ delivering verdicts right and
left (its hardly a coincidence that the title is taken from
the Old Testaments Book of Daniel). It helps enormously -
lends the film more heft and substance (not to mention a broader
range of targets for Junior to glare at) - that Brocka worked on
a large canvas, one of the rare if not only moment in his career
that he would do so.
essentially telling his lifes story, drawing from his memories
of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, and of the people there. Junior WAS Brocka
- the sensitive young man, disillusioned with the status quo and
yearning for something different, something more; he was also Milagros,
the politicians bastard (Brocka himself was the illegitimate
child of a political figure). You might say that the secret behind
Brockas intensity, behind his close identification with the
outcast and oppressed, was that he himself was an outcast - painful
knowledge that would make him more open to the plight of others,
to fellow outcasts in life.
identification he felt towards his characters is the foremost virtue
of his storytelling; at the same time, it was his biggest vice.
If he had a tendency to like certain characters - to get under their
skin and look through their eyes - he also had an equal tendency
to shut others out - to condemn and deny them their full measure
You could see
this to a certain extent in Brockas treatment of Milagros.
Guillen in an interview talked about how she would often chafe under
Brockas detailed direction (Brocka in response would call
her his "Jeanne Moreau" - mysterious and neurotic).
clearly conceived to be a worldly, sensual woman who would initiate
Junior into the mysteries of sex; Guillen (perhaps rebelling against
Brockas rigid direction) adds a hint of empathy, a sense that
shes a hurt soul reaching out to a fellow hurt soul. It might
have been a complexity that Brocka hadnt bargained for, because
after the seduction scene Milagros essentially drops out of the
picture. And you miss her; you want to know what happened to her,
how she ultimately fared after her one-night stand with Junior.
An even graver
sin is committed against an even more crucial character - Cesar,
Juniors father. As it turns out, Kuala had once been one of
Cesars many girlfriends; when she got pregnant Cesar had her
baby aborted, and the trauma drove her crazy - shes been searching
for her child ever since. Cesar, interestingly enough, is not unaffected
by the affair; certain moments, certain movements of Kualas
remind him of the beautiful girl he once knew. Eddie Garcia plays
Cesar beautifully, and his could have been a crucial role in the
film, the correlative to de Leons Junior - where Junior is
a young innocent waking up to compassion, Cesar could have been
an aged hedonist haunted by it, mirror images lit from different
But no; these
flashes of remembrance and regret dont redeem Cesar in Brockas
eyes, perhaps because the character is too far from Brockas
own to understand, perhaps because he too closely resembles his
father (he was reportedly a kind man, but Brocka may not have forgiven
him for dying early). When the time comes, Junior judges Cesar as
harshly as the rest - even harsher, perhaps, since Cesar had earlier
warned Junior away from Kuala and Berto, and Junior holds this against
him. Milagros and, to a greater extent, Cesar represent a wasted
potential in Brockas scheme for Tinimbang, I
think. They fall on the borderline that separates those who deserve
Brockas condemnation and those who deserve his compassion;
they are either swept to one side of the border or forgotten, and
the films complexity suffers as a result.
But then Juniors
story and climactic act of judgement - to my mind, anyway - arent
the films true point of interest. The character of Junior,
for one, is hardly original - he joins the protagonist in Federico
Fellinis I Vitelloni and Timothy Bottoms character
in Peter Bogdanovichs The Last Picture Show as one in a gallery
of small-town youths who learn about disillusionment and heartbreak.
Unlike the young heroes in Fellinis and Bogdanovichs
films, Junior is something of a self-righteous prig - de Leon plays
him as if hes too good for the likes of his father and those
hypocritical grannies. Its a superior stance too easily assumed;
you feel he hasnt quite earned the right to do so.
true power comes not from its foreground story but from its marginalia,
from its deadpan observation of the absurdity of everyday small-town
life, and from its excellent if flawed sketches of Milagros and
Cesar. Its power comes, most of all, from Kuala and Berto, the towns
most miserable inhabitants, and the intense yet simply told story
of love found at the bottom of this world.
unfinished and Junior feels downright thin (the flaw may be in the
filmmakers approach than in the performances); Kuala and Berto
are fully realized characters (does it help that OHara, who
plays Berto, wrote the screenplay based on Brockas outline?).
They are Brockas version of Jose Rizals Noli Me Tangere
(Touch Me Not) with Kuala as Sisa - remember that Noli is
about yet another dull young man who wakes up to reality, while
in the novels margins dance the unforgettable figure of a
madwoman in search of her child...
who plays Kuala, captures the smallest, wince-inducing detail about
homeless lunatics, from scabied scalp to urine-stained thighs. OHara
plays Berto as a man made utterly alone by his leprosy, perhaps
not a little mad himself - when he first notices Kuala, it is with
the predatory hunger of someone deprived of sex for a long, long
time. Rodriguez and OHara make the relationship that blossoms
between them effortless, yet utterly real - Rodriguez as Kuala responding
to Bertos attentions hungrily, even greedily (the way a child
would); OHara as Berto suddenly finding himself functioning
as guardian and father as well as lover. The couple are the most
successful evocation of love in any of Brockas films, I think,
and, by far, the most moving. A great film, possibly Brockas
best except for one other - but thats the basis of yet another
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.