Cast: Gigi Dueñas, Nora Aunor, Spanky Manikan, Veronica Palileo
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival
Bronze Hugo Prize, 1983 Chicago International Film Festival
Official Selection, 1983 Berlin International Film Festival
Best Asia-Pacific Film of All Time, CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award (2008)
2012 restoration by ABS-CBN
A cursed town creeps into darkness on the night of the eclipse. When the moon re-emerges, Elsa’s face is illuminated by a divine glow. She returns to town and reveals what happened: the Virgin Mary appeared before her with the vow to heal the sick. As they often do to her, the villagers shun Elsa as the orphan outcast she’s been her whole life. But then the prophecy starts coming true, and Elsa becomes a national celebrity. She’s trailed by disciples, but also jealous naysayers, profiteers hawking Elsa merchandise, city and overseas journalists with no stake in religious truth.
What begins as a fable of outsiders rocking the small town becomes something far more depraved and introspective, as the promise of the divine unlocks the demons within. Libidos are unleashed. Hypocrisies and suspicions mount. Meanwhile, Elsa offers a folk alternative to the church, the government, and the medical establishment. The people need to believe because they deserve the honor of truth, however false their idols might seem.
And what better idol to praise than Nora Aunor, arguably the biggest Filipino star of her generation, who gives Elsa eyes gripped by ecstasy, unholy ghosts, or the deepest fears. As only the most magnetic stars can, Aunor bestows Elsa the blank slate of identification: we and the worshipping crowds see in her face what we need to see: concern, matronly love, transcendence, the survival of the mistreated, the cruel responsibility to deliver the impossible.
Along with the epic crowds and the barren landscape, Aunor completes the trinity of HIMALA’s visual allegory for a Philippines haunted by its many false idols. Director Ishmael Bernal and writer Ricky Lee assail us with the hallucinatory fervor on the ground and the harsh truths of their political critique, delivering a classic of classics that feels both pointedly of-its-moment and utterly timeless. –Brian Hu
Sun Apr 14