OHaras Kastilyong Buhangin (Castle Of Sand,
1980) is the story of two children, a boy and a girl. The boy
lives with his mother (theater and radio actress Metring David);
the girl is an orphan, and suffers under a stepmother (Bella
Flores) and her lover (Marios brother and character actor
Edwin OHara), a drunkard and violent man who beats the
girl every chance he gets.
one point, the girl confesses that she envies the boy, who has
many dreams and seems to be going somewhere; she, on the other
hand, has no place to go. The boy chides the girl, and tells
her that hell always take care of her, no matter what.
And so their fates are sealed...
tells this hard-luck story with such heartfelt simplicity and
a directness that is captivating. Boy befriends a girl with
a curse; boy and girl help each other, find solace in each others
company. Boy confronts curse, and defeats it; with the implacable
logic of all fairy tales, curse is lifted from the girl and
transferred to the boy, who spends the rest of his youth growing
up in reformatory prison.
shows us a prison life full of realistic detail and a casual,
almost unnoticed lyricism - at one point he has the boy running
through a field of flowers that, we assume, the convicts have
planted and cared for over the years. The girl, now staying
with the boys mother, visits once in a while, and their
meetings have the unforced happiness of two childhood friends
seeing each other again. Then, almost unnoticed (a quick match-cut
from young boy to grown man), the boy becomes Lito Lapid, one
of the films stars, who runs up to meet his visiting "sister,"
Nora Aunor, the films other star.
described the lengthy beginning in some detail because it seems
important to OHaras concept of the film. Kastilyong
Buhangins prologue painstakingly establishes a fairy-tale
tone (perfect for defusing disbelief in a fairy-tale melodrama);
presents to viewers the childhood traumas that shaped the characters;
and introduces an all-important fatalist attitude towards destiny
- how one may fight and resist it for a while, but ultimately
must submit to it.
this prologue with its precisely evoked emotional texture that
distracts you - distracts, misdirects, ultimately demolishes
from your awareness the fact that this is actually a vehicle
for both Lapid and Aunor. Aunor being a singer and actress and
Lapid being a stuntman turned action-star, the film is a mélange
of pop-song numbers and hand-to-hand combat sequences - an odd
combination for a melodrama and usually a fatal one, in that
the natural reaction would be to refuse to take any of it seriously.
I mean, how can you watch with a straight face a cover of "Corner
In The Sky" from Pippin (complete with Carpenters-style
orchestration and choreography) followed by a deadly gang fight
set in a meat market?
you do; somehow you watch not only with straight face but also
with bated breath, hoping Lapid comes through the meat-market
fracas okay - which is OHaras achievement. Like
the popular song composed by George Canseco that serves as the
films theme and title, Kastilyong Buhangin dives
into its emotional core and serves the story up simply, sincerely,
shot in OHaras uniquely cinematic style.
film's) prologue painstakingly
establishes a fairy-tale tone
(perfect for defusing disbelief
in a fairy-tale melodrama);
presents to viewers the
childhood traumas that shaped
the characters; and introduces
an all-important fatalist attitude
towards destiny - how one may
fight and resist it for a while,
but ultimately must submit to it.
the rising singer saddled with a problematic lover (think A
Star Is Born) gives the film its dramatic fire and substance.
Shes the sensible person hurting because she loves someone
much less sensible; shes torn between the urge to abandon
that person (the common-sense professional) and the urge to
stand by her man (the little girl that still remembers her childhood
this time Aunor was considered a heavyweight drama actress -
she had made Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (You Are The Mother Of
Your Child, 1979) with Lino Brocka; Ikaw ay Akin (You
Are Mine, 1978) opposite rival Vilma Santos (Ishmael Bernal
directing); and, of course, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three
Years Without God, 1976), with OHara - but there is nothing
heavy about her acting here; its human-scaled and elegantly
drawn, with few wasted gestures or unnecessary lines of dialogue.
As with Aunors very best performances, the intensity comes
not from her line readings (possibly her weakest moment is when
someone is killed, and she cries out, perhaps too theatrically,
for a doctor), but from her eyes - huge, dark, eloquent, a silent
film actress in a sound picture.
understanding this, gives her many moments where she displays
this quality - moments like when she suddenly ends a recording
session and sits alone in the studio, all wordless glamour and
mystery. Or when Lapid comes to her bedroom drunk, and makes
a pass at her - Aunor rejects him at first, then thinks better
of it. This second example is especially fine: you see from
the expression on her face that shes a proper girl who
really should refuse him - but she loves him, damn it, and shes
tired of being so proper. The wine, after all is said and done,
must be decanted some time; just this once she wants to live
may be the dramatic spine supporting the film, but Lapids
character is its central consciousness, its heart. Which
is amazing, as from the little Ive seen of his other work,
Lapids range as an actor is strictly limited - he has
always played this shy, likeable "probinsyano" (provincial)
who comes to the big city, mainly because its the only
part he can play. And OHara uses this; he counts on Lapids
shyness and apparent innocence to keep the audience on his side
while OHara sketches a darker, more complex side to the
effect Lapid, whos eventually released on parole, has
adjusted so well to the claustrophobic cells and strict regulations
of prison life that the open spaces of the world outside gives
him a kind of agoraphobia; he cant help but shrink back
in fear. From whiling away the days with his convict friends,
hes now expected to go back to school, get a job, become
a responsible human being (expectations so daunting, even to
us ordinary people, they must seem almost impossible to an ex-convict).
Lapid cant deal with it; he resorts to drinking, falls
in with all kinds of dubious friends and gets into all kinds
of trouble. In effect, Lapid never left prison - hes just
graduated to a larger one with more complex regulations, the
locks and restraints applied mainly to his mind, where they
cant be picked or broken.
one telling scene some friends get him drunk, and he responds
by giving them a floor show - the kind of gyrating dance men
learn from nightclubs and strip joints. Eventually his dancing
suggests something more - a release of pent-up emotions, of
energies long repressed. Finally hes merely whirling in
place, his arms and legs flailing about while he fruitlessly
seeks escape, release, relief, a mammal running helplessly on
a treadmill until he collapses, weeping in anger and frustration.
He literally has no place to go.
Lapids character OHara shows us that innocence is
not enough - that in fact it will be innocence that causes us
to fall out of step with the world (which is essentially corrupt),
that will trip us up and bring us down. OHara gives us
a portrait of a man drowning, and surrounds him with loving,
caring people (Aunor, David) who can only watch helplessly as
he gradually chokes to death.
word on the violence in this film - theres plenty of it,
mainly because Lapids character spent most of his time
in prison learning (as far as I can tell) a combination of boxing,
karate and streetfighting. The tragedy is that he might have
learnt too well; if he wasnt so good at defending himself,
if he had been beaten up a few times early on, maybe he wouldnt
be so fearless about getting himself into trouble.
it is, the fight scenes are intricately choreographed, coherently
shot and edited and relentlessly realistic; they mark a major
difference between OHara and his one-time collaborator,
Lino Brocka. While Brocka has made noir films (Jaguar, Macho
Dancer, Hot Property), and song-and-drama flicks (Stardoom),
he could never do action scenes, an essential to noir, very
well - he leaves that to a fight choreographer to arrange, then
photographs the results indifferently.
is clearly more familiar with violence; he shoots it with flair
and a real filmmakers eye, and in Kastilyong Buhangin
it is a major contributor to the grim visual texture. OHara
even has a final setpiece, a riot in a prison shower room, that
outdoes anything Ive seen even in Ringo Lams Prison
On Fire movies and looks extremely difficult to choreograph
and shoot (OHara takes advantage of the fact that almost
everyone in the shower room is an accomplished stunt man to
do the near-impossible - and on wet tiles, yet). The musical
accompaniment to this orgy of violence is a sad, tinkling little
melody, the kind likely to evoke childhood memories - as if
Lapids thoughts had gone beyond the body-blows and splashing
blood, to a time when he could be both innocent and happy with
the ones he loved.
Buhangin was a big hit, possibly one of the few times the
Filipino public would find OHaras dark sensibilities
so palatable (the song, an anthem to the transience of life,
would endure through the years to become a sentimental classic).
later works like Bagong Hari (The New King, 1986) and
Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000), OHara would push
farther and farther into violence and brutality, almost uncaring
as to whether or not the public would follow. They wouldnt,
but these films remain as signposts marking off the kind of
lonely and forbidding territories Philippine cinema - or at
least one practitioner of the art - is able and willing to explore.
Note: Menzone, July 2002.
The above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.