Friday, March 18, 2011

Dung-Aw (1975, Lino Brocka)

The month of March is commemorated every year in the Philippines as Women’s Month. This week’s highlights seem to be unrelated at first glance…

March 16. Two days ago, Armida Siguion-Reyna, the feisty, octogenarian actress and movie personality, became the sole recipient of the Diwata award at the 20th International Women’s Film Festival.

March 19. On that day 280 years ago, a baby girl was born named Maria Josefa Gabriela Cariño in Santa, Ilocos Sur. She will later be known as Henerala Gabriela Silang.

What else bind both ladies aside from being Ilocana firebrands and, lower your eyebrows, Women’s Month role models?

Both figure in the historical/musical film Dung-Aw. The title refers to an Ilocano traditional verbal practice of highlighting a deceased person’s accomplishments. If you have seen the film Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio, then you’ve heard of the Dung-aw chanted by the Ilocana shaman. The Ilocano word also means ‘to look (or peek) out of the window. ‘

Dung-Aw is a glimpse into the heroism of 18th century revolutionary leader Gabriela Silang (Armida Siguion-Reyna). There is an early magnificent shot that captures perfectly the dung-aw concept. With a dirge playing in the background, we see the corpse of Gabriela lying atop a horse. A superimposed image of a black-clad lady makes it appear as if Gabriela has risen from the death. For nearly three seconds, the powerful image it presents is that of a victorious Gabriela. The extolling of a dead person’s achievements is ultimately what a dung-aw is all about.

The accompanying dirge is somewhat similar to the Lenten songs of the progressive singing group Patatag. There seems to be not so much difference between a dung-aw and the pasyon. Both lamentations narrate life stories.

Scriptwriter Mario O’Hara makes do with limited information about Gabriela. He gets straight to the point with regards the reason behind the revolution of the Ilocano peasants. The Spaniards usurp the indulto de comercio to their advantage. They allow Ilocanos to trade but only at prices set by them. The landowning couple, Diego and Gabriela, resorts to bypassing the Spaniards. However, a Judas Iscariot betrays them for a pouch of money. The assassination of her husband Diego prompts Gabriela to lead the rebels despite overwhelming odds. She was eventually arrested and, just like Jesus Christ, was executed publicly. A young revolutionary named Pablo waits for the second coming of Gabriela.

I admire the filmmakers for their courageous artistic decision of shaping the film into a dung-aw. The film is informative and instructive just like a dung-aw or a pasyon. But, it is not satisfying and doesn’t peak. It stays monotonous just like the droning sound emanating from the Pasyon. The songs and performances are not memorable. Siguion-Reyna has a beautiful voice but is simply too mature to play the fiery Gabriela.

O’Hara takes another crack at retelling the life of Gabriela Silang by directing his own film. That project, with the working title of Henerala, is on my list of must-see films at the Cinemalaya 2011. Is this the second coming of Gabriela bruited about in the film?

Another thing that whets my appetite is a dream project of Siguion-Reyna. The Diwata awardee revealed that she wants to make a no-holds-barred account of the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao. She doesn't care about possible repercussions. To paraphrase Siguion-Reyna, true courage is fighting even when death stares at you. Spoken like a true Gabriela.

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