Listed in most Top 10 lists of Philippines' cinema, Lino Brocka's 1974 classic, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged And Found Wanting), still knocks every critics' socks off. Critic Noel Vera isn't spared.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Tinimbang Ka 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 O’Hara 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 Cinema.

Tinimbang 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, he’s popular and good-looking, his sweetheart, Evangeline (Hilda Koronel), is the prettiest girl in school. Then Junior’s 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 town’s outcasts - in Kuala, a crazed homeless woman, and her lover, Berto the leper.

He eventually 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 film’s title - he stares at every town folk in the eye, judges them, and finds them all wanting.

It’s a dramatic moment, and Brocka invests it with near-Biblical significance, as if Junior were some young Christ delivering verdicts right and left (it’s hardly a coincidence that the title is taken from the Old Testament’s 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.

Brocka was essentially telling his life’s 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 politician’s bastard (Brocka himself was the illegitimate child of a political figure). You might say that the secret behind Brocka’s 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.

This intense 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 of understanding.

You could see this to a certain extent in Brocka’s treatment of Milagros. Guillen in an interview talked about how she would often chafe under Brocka’s detailed direction (Brocka in response would call her his "Jeanne Moreau" - mysterious and neurotic).

Milagros was clearly conceived to be a worldly, sensual woman who would initiate Junior into the mysteries of sex; Guillen (perhaps rebelling against Brocka’s rigid direction) adds a hint of empathy, a sense that she’s a hurt soul reaching out to a fellow hurt soul. It might have been a complexity that Brocka hadn’t 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, Junior’s father. As it turns out, Kuala had once been one of Cesar’s many girlfriends; when she got pregnant Cesar had her baby aborted, and the trauma drove her crazy - she’s been searching for her child ever since. Cesar, interestingly enough, is not unaffected by the affair; certain moments, certain movements of Kuala’s 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 Leon’s 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 angles.

But no; these flashes of remembrance and regret don’t redeem Cesar in Brocka’s eyes, perhaps because the character is too far from Brocka’s 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 Brocka’s scheme for Tinimbang, I think. They fall on the borderline that separates those who deserve Brocka’s condemnation and those who deserve his compassion; they are either swept to one side of the border or forgotten, and the film’s complexity suffers as a result.

But then Junior’s story and climactic act of judgement - to my mind, anyway - aren’t the film’s true point of interest. The character of Junior, for one, is hardly original - he joins the protagonist in Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni and Timothy Bottoms’ character in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show as one in a gallery of small-town youths who learn about disillusionment and heartbreak. Unlike the young heroes in Fellini’s and Bogdanovich’s films, Junior is something of a self-righteous prig - de Leon plays him as if he’s too good for the likes of his father and those hypocritical grannies. It’s a superior stance too easily assumed; you feel he hasn’t quite earned the right to do so.

The film’s 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 town’s most miserable inhabitants, and the intense yet simply told story of love found at the bottom of this world.

Cesar feels unfinished and Junior feels downright thin (the flaw may be in the filmmaker’s approach than in the performances); Kuala and Berto are fully realized characters (does it help that O’Hara, who plays Berto, wrote the screenplay based on Brocka’s outline?). They are Brocka’s version of Jose Rizal’s 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 novel’s margins dance the unforgettable figure of a madwoman in search of her child...

Lolita Rodriguez, who plays Kuala, captures the smallest, wince-inducing detail about homeless lunatics, from scabied scalp to urine-stained thighs. O’Hara 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 O’Hara make the relationship that blossoms between them effortless, yet utterly real - Rodriguez as Kuala responding to Berto’s attentions hungrily, even greedily (the way a child would); O’Hara 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 Brocka’s films, I think, and, by far, the most moving. A great film, possibly Brocka’s best except for one other - but that’s the basis of yet another article...

Note: Menzone, September 2002. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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