Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Oro, Plata, Mata (Peque Gallaga)


A second viewing.

"Oro, Plata, Mata" can easily be accused of being too explicit and overly indulgent on Peque Gallaga's part, but it can't be doubted that this film puts forth a visually harrowing perspective that does not merely settle on pacifist commentaries or wartime tears. Sometimes, just like how Gallaga has presented his allegorical "Scorpio Nights", films must not wait in some dark corner in hopes that someone may clumsily pick them up out of curiosity. They must be assertive with their audience regarding whatever they want to show, and "Oro, Plata, Mata" succeeded to do just that, with the occasional 'shock' factor on the side.

Just like "Batch '81", which suddenly begins with a musical score that mirrors the sounds of a circus fun fair, this film also opened with a music that seems out of place. A mixture of harmlessness and sardonic sarcasm, the music plays as if it's poking fun of its mannered bourgeoisie characters, Bunuel-style. The film's opening credits greet us with assortment of characters moving in 'slow-motion' as they fix their hairs and smoke tobaccos. Going along with these scenes is this sinister feel that wraps them that seem to suggest that "Oro, Plata, Mata" is about decadence as it is about the entrails of war, if not more.

And as the film furthers its linear yet episodic narrative descent into the grave unknowns of war, it unfolds an unsettling portrait of how even the most mannered of people may easily concede to the angst-ridden sexual temptations that root out from living in ennui. But Gallaga, who shows his mastery of visual composition and a hint of exploitation (I believe that the film still would have worked even with two to three sex/nude scenes less), backed by Jose Javier Reyes' screenplay, extends the fact that the film's characters' emotional and carnal transformations weren't human deconstructions, but a simple case of skeletons in the closet. It's right with them all along.

Joel Torre, his first screen role, is remarkably effective as the frail Miguel, whose psychological metamorphosis from a mama's boy to a hardened killer is every bit believable. While an array of portrayals by Sandy Andolong, Lisa Lorena and Maneul Ojeda balances the film with subtlety, the film is made literally alive amid the film's more dragging moments by commanding performances from Lorli Villanueva and especially Mitch Valdez (credited as Maya Valdes in the film) as the calculating 'doktora', whose sexual promiscuity inspires the innocent Trining (Cherie Gil) to pursue and quench the thirsts of the flesh with Hermes (the vastly underrated Ronnie Lazaro), a Guerrilla rendered mute by the war.

There's no question about "Oro, Plata, Mata's" distinct influence across Philippine cinema. Whether it's the scope, the family-centered narrative or the violence, this film attracted 'greatness' for itself but does not brag about it. Never did I feel, all throughout its more than 3 hours of running time, that the film relished in self-importance. Self-indulgent, yes, there were specific scenes which were more a showcase of great cinematography and production design than sharp needles to stitch the whole film together. But still, "Oro, Plata, Mata" is nonetheless a lasting Filipino film that tackled the horrors, the deep wounds and the indelible scars of the Second World War unlike any other of its kind.

In the long run (quite literally for its length), it's never an overly pacifist film. Although there's this ambiguous 'diwata' character played by Kuh Ledesma that may subjectively symbolize the tarnished state of our 'Inang Bayan' (Mother Land) during the onset of war, the film is more about the isolated effect of violence and sexual immorality upon two families than it is a cinematic anti-war essay. Hell, we only see one Japanese soldier in the entirety of the film.

"Oro, Plata, Mata" is never concerned about the sentiments against foreign oppression that comes from islands away. With its blood-drenched message, the film is a brutal depiction of how at chaotic times, barbarism and decay gush out from nowhere else but within one's own backyard.


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