O'Hara, who died June 26 last year, was actor, writer, director for Filipino radio, television, stage, screen. He was best known for writing and directing the wartime drama Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976), for acting in and writing the screenplay of close friend Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974) and for co-directing the recent political miniseries Sa Ngalan ng Ina (In the Name of the Mother, 2011).
Pangarap ng Puso was made at an odd juncture in O'Hara's career. He had just enjoyed a small success with his previous pito-pito melodrama Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof, 1998), a multi-storied, multi-charactered behind-the-scenes look at Filipino filmmaking, described by one of its actors as "a eulogy for the Filipino film industry." Bubungang Lata functioned as both expose of abuses and exercise in nostalgia, freely mingling the grinding realism of the filmmakers' hardscrabble lives with the supernatural presence of their predecessors (younger incarnations of aged actresses, dead husbands come back to life).
Pangarap was a different creature altogether--a brief, deftly sketched precis of Philippine history from just before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino Jr., through the toppling of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and rise of Aquino's widow to the office of President, and beyond. Along the way it depicts both military atrocities and the at times even more extreme violence inspired by those atrocities.
The film (set in Negros Oriental) touches on Negrense mythology, particularly the kapre: a huge, hairy manlike creature with sharp stink, who liked to play pranks on people.
It tells the shared story of Nena, daughter of a wealthy haciendero, and Jose, son of one of the haciendero's employees.
It's also a celebration of Filipino poetry.
If the film doesn't end up as an incoherent mess--and I'm not saying it doesn't, not entirely--that's because O'Hara manages to tie almost everything together into a bewildering, genre-defying Gordian knot, where Negrense mythology and Philippine political history are just differing aspects of the same sociopolitical-cultural landscape, and a young girl's love can assume the features of both angel and demon simultaneously.
This was when O'Hara was introduced to digital nonlinear video editing, which seems to have liberated him--his editing here at times resembled the shuttering of a single-lens reflex camera, at times the streaming consciousness of a young girl's febrile mind, free-associating ideas and emotions into a single narrative.
Occasionally O'Hara throws an image of the text being read onscreen, and one is reminded of Robert Bresson's Journal d'un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest), where we hear the priest mouthing the words, we see the words being written in his diary. The idea seems to be less about reinforcing some point or concept through synesthetic means, more about reveling in the physicality of poetry--the scratchy texture of wood-pulp paper, the visual pop! of seeing ink applied to paper, the feel of words read from the paper rolling off one's tongue. Then the shock of realizing that the words one is enjoying holds significance for the drama onscreen, their meanings detonating in your head like timed explosive devices--
At roughly one hundred minutes' running time and made for three million pesos (roughly US$75,000), the film seems outsized in its ambition, startling in its imagination. Despite barely having the money to evoke a hacienda lifestyle, much less produce the effects needed for a war or horror movie, the film encapsulates the pain and passion and perversity of one small corner of the Philippines, towards the end of the previous millennium.
Coming this April 20th: a weeklong retrospective (here's a trailer/preview) of O'Hara's work as an actor, screenwriter, and director, with thanks to Jojo de Vera of the Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy Blog. Will post links to the films soon (possibly no English subtitles except when noted; some of the films digitally enhanced and cleaned for improved visual clarity (again, when noted)); links to article whenever applicable.
Tentative titles to be shown:
As actor: Tubog sa Ginto
As writer: Rubia Servios and Kasal?
As director: Bulaklak sa City Jail, Uhaw Sa Pag-Ibig, Prinsesang Gusgusin, Bed Sins.