long-awaited adaptation of Lualhati Bautistas classic
novel, Dekada 70 (Decade 70), finally comes
to us, after years in production and as many tens of millions
of pesos spent in recreating the period, and the question on
everybodys mind is: is it worth the wait? Is it worth
the millions? The novel, about a family that lived through the
tumultuous 70s including the declaration of Martial Law
and the time of terror that followed, was narrated and dominated
by Amanda Bartolome (portrayed in the film by Vilma Santos)
- it was her story, and no one elses.
in casting Christopher de Leon as Julian Bartolome, Amandas
husband, radically shifted the storys focus away from
Amanda. The novels Julian was a non-entity; de Leon being
de Leon, however, would naturally demand as much screen time
and emphasis as Santos. Equally radical is the greater emphasis
placed on the character of Jules (Piolo Pascual), the eldest
son. His story as an officer in the Communist Party of the Philippines
and later political prisoner actually takes over the middle
of the film, and puts him on equal footing, in terms of focus
and screen time, with both mother and father.
effect of all this, and of Rono and Star Cinemas overall
approach is to create a broader, more complex, far less focused
narrative. "Dekada" the novel was as tight and coherent
and elegantly structured as a screenplay for a novel; Dekada
the film breaks up the novel into a series of vignettes,
with possibly a linking visual leitmotif (the bougainvillea
in the Bartolomes front fence?). Dekada the novel
is an intense, emotionally charged read; Dekada the film
is ultimately moving, but only after a lengthy struggle, and
a slog through not a few dull spots.
(in adapting her novel) and Star Cinema opt for the epic approach,
and you wonder if its worth the effort. We get Ana Capri,
Tirso Cruz III and Kris Aquino, among others, filling in supporting
roles (Aquinos scenes are mercifully short, mostly in
long shot, and noticeably dubbed; Capri is good as always, even
with minimal lines of dialogue). We get huge shots of rallies
and demonstrations (one of them, I suspect, digitally enhanced).
get overproduced set designs (the Bartolomes seem a whole lot
wealthier than they should be as an ordinary middle-class family).
We get Important Film pacing, and sententious Epic Production
music. We get arty camerawork, especially during the torture
scenes (the blood is impeccably production-designed), and scenes
where the Bartolomes look for their missing son in various police
stations (think Federico Fellini directing Serpico). Rono is
a classy visual stylist but no Brocka, who can capture the stink
of the streets with a single shot.
acquit themselves well enough... with the pointed exception
of Jason (Danilo Barrios), whos irritatingly glib for
most of the movie, then suddenly figures in one of the films
crucial turning points, for no other apparent reason than that
he was refused permission to date on Christmas Eve. Piolo Pascual
is puppy-dog pretty and about as cheerful, but as his story
of imprisonment and torture progresses, the cheerfulness starts
looking less shallow and more heroic.
I had a
problem with his reunion scenes, where he tells his family stories
about his interrogations - would a political prisoner be so
lighthearted about his horrific experiences? I understand the
scene was conceived as being like any reunion with a long-lost
family member, and Pascual being as cutely proud as any child
out on adventure... I can see the irony in such a scene, appreciate
the attempt, and still be unhappy with the final execution.
Overall though, he is a solid, supportive presence, and he carries
the burden of being third lead in an epic with becoming grace.
mentioned Christopher de Leons role as husband and father...
and here is where I tend to disagree with critics: the film
cannot be 100 per cent faithful to the novel; it has its own
priorities to attend to. A nonentity Julian isnt necessarily
an improvement over Julian as Bautista reimagines him for the
big screen; as played by de Leon, hes a larger-scaled,
more formidable opponent (which is what he is) for Amanda -
self-centered, satisfied, full of his own sense of importance,
yet possessed of enormous charm, and not entirely unsympathetic.
as Amanda is the linchpin upon which the film turns and, in
the opening scenes, she doesnt so much dominate as she
does sort of fade away to one corner - which was exactly what
the role needed, I felt. Santos banks her usual superwoman charisma
here; she plays Amanda not as Santos the movie star or as an
award-winning role, but as the film needs: a not-so-smart woman
with little knowledge of whats going on and little opportunity
of finding out, hoping for and fearing for her several wayward
children. Its her eventual realization of the limits of
the box into which her life fits that is the true action of
the film - a bit militant-feminist in outline, perhaps, but
persuasively and even movingly done on the big screen.
displays precise control throughout the film, far better than
in her previous collaboration with Rono and Bautista, the hugely
overrated Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ba Ginawa? (Leas
Story, 1999). Nevertheless, the quiet scenes where Santos speaks
little yet says everything with her eyes made me think: this
would be perfect for Nora Aunor, whod been offered the
role (she asked for too much), perhaps with someone less mestizo
(Pen Medina?) as husband, and unknowns for sons. Dekada
70 actually doesnt seem to be a project that
lives or dies on star power, what with its classic status, large
budget, and powerful TV station for promotional backing; it
could have taken more risks in terms of the cast. Santos does
well enough - is, in fact, quite good - but Aunor would have
hit it right out of the ball park.
is, as mentioned, far better than Rono and Bautistas
previous collaboration, Bata, Bata - that one was essentially
a 70s novel filmed as present-day drama, and believability
was the first casualty of the resulting time-warp. The film
isnt as likeable, however, as Ronos La Vida Rosa,
where (thanks to Armando Laos script) Rosanna Roces and
an excellent cast are allowed to breath and create their own
fateful little world. It isnt as taut as Eskapo,
which (thanks to Pete Lacabas script) is reasonably exciting,
and is still probably Ronos best to date.
does, however fulfill one important function, with which
it shares duty with Eskapo - to immerse us in an important
yet apparently forgotten period of recent history. Rono tells
horror stories of how, when extras were asked to cry before
Ninoy Aquinos coffin, few of the extras knew who Ninoy
was; they had to be told to pretend it was celebrity youth Rico
Yan in the coffin before they could give the proper reaction.
If only for this, for giving us a reasonably well-filmed, well-acted
drama about what happened and why during the 70s, Ronos
film (along with his Eskapo) should be considered required
Businessworld, December 27, 2002.
The above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.