Monday, May 25, 2009
Pinoy Film Focus: Oro, Plata, Mata (1982)
Director: Peque Gallaga
Writers: Jose Javier Reyes, Peque Gallaga, Mario Taguiwalo, Conchita Castillo
Cast: Manny Ojeda, Liza Lorena, Sandy Andolong, Cherie Gil, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Joel Torre, Maya Valdez, Lorli Villanueva, Ronnie Lazaro
Runtime: 194 minutes
Most Filipino film-goers nowadays would know Peque Gallaga best for his prosthetics-heavy horror flicks (Shake, Rattle & Roll; Tiyanak; Aswang), kiddie fantasy pics (Magic Temple; Mortal Kombat: Alamat ng Damortis), or erotika (Scorpio Nights; Virgin Forest). But before those, he contributed one of the few genuine masterpieces of Philippine cinema: the unmatched epic Oro, Plata, Mata.
The film starts innocuously with a lively party that brings together two aristocratic families in Negros during World War II. Here, Maggie Ojeda (Sandy Andolong) is introduced to society as a young woman, while her sister Trining (Cherie Gil) experiences her first kiss with childhood sweetheart Miguel Lorenzo (Joel Torre). The prospect of war looms over the event, with Don Claudio Ojeda (Manny Ojeda) discussing it with his fellow landowners amidst the joviality, but it is not until the celebration is cut short by news of the fall of Corregidor to the Japanese that the descent to darkness truly begins for the characters. To escape from the war that approaches them, the Ojedas and the Lorenzos are forced to flee the latter's manor for the forest, where they encounter first-hand the depths to which man can be forced by the terrors of war. Those that survive the ordeal are ultimately changed, a far cry from the figures of naive complacency that they had been in the beginning.
Though the attempt to portray the loss of innocence can be heavy-handed at times (the vindictive rampage of Miguel Lorenzo near the end and the fate of a supposed diwata being the most glaring examples), Gallaga and his co-writers have woven an uncharacteristically tight and powerful Filipino film that cuts no corners. Throughout the film, there is a palpable aura of dread and ill portent, even as it closes off with the inevitable celebration of the Japanese's defeat in the war. Not much was spared in bringing the prospect of violence to the fore, with the characters driving their carabaos and belongings through raging fires (a truly memorable sequence, perhaps one of the greatest in Philippine cinema) and carnal desires being fulfilled amidst the backdrops of towering trees and flowing rivers. The film would go on to win major awards, including Best Picture, from the critics of the Urian, but this is one movie that deserves much more praise and a more prominent place in Philippine film history than it has been granted. There are already telltale signs here of Gallaga's future career as a master of blood-drenched and prosthetics-laden popcorn flicks, but nothing he has made since has matched Oro, Plata, Mata for sheer gravitas, scale, and simple quality. Nor have most films from any other director, for that matter.