With the passing of Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara is one of a shrinking handful of Philippine film directors whose films are worth getting excited about. Lino has already made his masterpieces; one disadvantage to being dead is that there are no more works forthcoming.
In films such as Condemned and Bulaklak sa City Jail Mr. O'Hara has proven that he can elicit memorable performances and excellent ensemble acting from Dan Alvaro, Nora Aunor, Maya Valdez, Zenaida Amador; even genial German Moreno gave a chilling turn as prison warden in Bulaklak. I will stick my neck out and say that he is Brocka's superior in visual style, as witness the dark gloriously film-noir look of Bagong Hari or the claustrophobic squalor in City Jail. As late as last year with Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty he was still doing fascinating work: while the first half of the film is a mess of underfunded special effects and poorly imagined art direction, the second half is one of the more enchanting fantasies made that year, local or foreign. It was more hip and sophisticated than Disney's Beauty and the Beast and fully realized the complexities of the Nick Joaquin short story it was based on.
One more thing about O'Hara's career: it is difficult it is agony to choose between his acting and his directing. He is a brilliant director but is a just as brilliant if not more so actor. Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulangis one of Brocka's more ambitious films (his best some say). O'Hara has the supporting role of a leper who lives in the outskirts of the village near a cemetery; his companion is a woman driven insane by a forced abortion, played by Lolita Rodriguez. Their roles are hoary old cliches that stink to high heaven of sickly sweet sentiment--or should: O'Hara and Ms. Rodriguez perform with sublime simplicity, treading the thin line between bathos and comedy. The result is a tender portrait of small-town outcasts; the film is a starring vehicle for Christopher De Leon (who fares well) but it's O'Hara and Rodriguez who stay with you.
O'Hara has made a few appearances since (he was memorable in Brocka's Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa as a malevolent gardener out to seduce a repressed widow, again played by Lolita Rodriguez--what is it about the two that the chemistry between them is so potent?). He has gone into directing, resulting in the films already mentioned (for which I am grateful), and has done work on stage.
Which brings us to O'Hara's Mephistopheles in the PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) production of Faust. In England Shakespeare wrote among many plays Henry ll to Vll, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear; Germany has Goethe who wrote Faust. It took him sixty years and almost as long for modern audiences to sit through; PETA is doing only the first part but still--ambitious.
Playing catchup: in the everchanging landscape of World Cinema, what happened to Hong Kong's 'heroic bloodshed' movement--those action filmmakers who featured slow motion, balletic action sequences, guns pointed at each others' faces?
Mike de Leon's first film in--has it been eighteen years?--has to be an event; the latest from one of our finest filmmakers, in the same league as Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad. Castillo. If it's arguably the weakest feature he's done to date (hopefully not his last) it still stands head and shoulders above most anything out there today, Filipino or Hollywood.
Rock the Devil Not long after Brillante Mendoza's Amo (which takes its cue from Respeto's rap-driven score) we have Lav Diaz's take on the Duterte regime. Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, 2018) is no small-scale response: two hundred and thirty-four minutes long, some six minutes short of four hours. And it's a musical.