Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Filipino films at the 2010 San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival!

 Mario O'Hara as Berto the Leper in You Were Weighed and Found Wanting

Coverage continues. Now Michael Guillen in The Evening Class has devoted an extensive and very detailed post on the Lino Brocka retrospective there, focusing on Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974).

'Course, that he quotes me extensively is a more than flattering kindness.

Throw in the observation that O'Hara in an interview I did some years back claimed that other than a story outline the script was all his work (could be, drawing from all the sources I mentioned, including Brocka's life, with which he is familiar). And that his work there as a supporting actor there (on paper; I regard him as a lead the way Al Pacino's role in The Godfather is a supporting role that's really a lead) is just amazing, a great and moving performance, easily the film's highlight. 

But it's really an ensemble film with everyone doing admirably, down to the drinking buddies at the local sari-sari (grocery) store.

I'd throw in the photography of Joe Batac, which is clean and simple. The regrettable reddish-pink tones that occur thanks to the print's color degradation I submit actually adds a lovely patina to the film--marking it more than ever as a '70s film, now that many Filipino films of this period look this way. Plus Lutgardo Labad's folk-instrument music (using, I suspect a specially shaped bamboo--that I've actually picked up and played, once--to create that striking Jew's Harp sound) sounds dissonant, beautifully barbaric. 

Michael G. asked me a question and I think it's interesting how certain issues come out thanks to the question--to quote in full: 

Michael G: In the scene where Berto first takes Kuala into his makeshift home, he asks her: "Is your name really Kuala?" and--perhaps I'm making too much of it--but I wondered why he would ask that? Is "Kuala" a nickname of sorts?

NV: Not that I'm aware of. He just isn't aware of her as a person--is like someone meeting his blind date for the first time. He doesn't know her as a person, or look at her as a person.

It's very possibly rape--the woman is hardly fully competent to consent to sex (at least as far as I remember with regards to legal definitions of rape). Basically the rapist grows a conscience and comes to care for his victim. You see this again in O'Hara's own masterpiece, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976).

Might add that looking around, the name 'Kuala' might have some significance, other than being an unusual name for a Filipina, means in both Malay and Indonesian 'estuary,' that muddy region of a river where fresh water merges with salt water. Certainly Kuala in the film might be considered by the men in town 'muddy' or unclean goods, and that she represents a mix of innocent and hedonist (a hedonist rendered innocent by insanity), age and youth, mother and whore.  


Maya said...

Now that is downright fascinating! Thanks for doing a little gumshoe work with regard to that. Would using a Malay or Indonesian name also mark her as an outsider? Or are these languages woven into Philippine culture?

I'm sorry I'm asking so many questions; I'm just genuinely interested.

Noel Vera said...

I love the interest! Ask away if you have anything else.

I don't think Brocka intentionally made her out to have a deliberately foreign name. Kuala isn't a common Filipino name, but it's not a foreign-sounding one, either. Sounds like something one would encounter in the provinces. I suspect the Malay reference is--well, not completely coincidental, Brocka even early on was literate and had even traveled a bit, going to Hawaii early in his life.

He could have been aware of it, and used it because of this, plus it didn't sound too far outside a plain and simple Filipino name.

Ka Pete said...

Kuala sounds like a possible nickname for somebody named Pascuala--not a very common Filipina name, but it exists as the female equivalent of the more common male Pascual. There are Philippine towns named San Pascual.

I don't think many Filipinos, even those of Lino's generation, would be familiar with the Malay and Indonesian word kuwala, meaning estuary. Our word for estuary comes from the Spanish: estero.

Maybe Kuala's name comes from koala bear? Maybe we should Mario O'Hara, since he wrote the screenplay.

Noel Vera said...

Hi, Michael, Kuala does sound like Pascual, a rare name perhaps in Filipino, but can be found in Italian and Spanish.

O'Hara said he'd followed a story outline, but that the script was essentially his. Don't know if that outline included the names. Worth asking, if anyone manages to catch him...