Director Lino Brocka: Stronger than Life


"His sure hand and unerring eye knew just how the interplay of elements would form the moving image on the screen that would be etched in the memory in a long, long time," wrote film critic Mario Hernando in his article "Lino Brocka: Director in Control—Blending Popular Entertainment, Realism and Social Comment."

PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) remembers director Lino Brocka whogave so much of his creativity and vision to Filipino movie making that hissudden death in a car crash on May 21, 1991 was a shock that reverberated notonly in local show business but all over the country. He was only 52.

He was posthumously honored by the FAMAS (Filipino Academyof Movie Arts and Sciences) Hall of Fame as Best Director in 1991 and declaredNational Artist for Film in 1997.

He has been called one of the greatest directors of Philippine cinema.Indeed, he thrived in its so-called Second Golden Age when his peers were makingtheir own masterpieces, like Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, Celso Ad. Castillo,Laurice Guillen, Marilou Diaz- Abaya, and renowned veteran from the 50's EddieRomero. Many of today's stars owe their rise in showbiz and acting trophies toLino Brocka. At the peak of his careerin the 70's and 80's, he made films that won critical acclaim and awards fortheir social and artistic impact.


Mario Hernando of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the film criticsgroup that gives out Gawad Urian, lauded Brocka for presenting true andbelievable characters and powerful stories. One thing that Lino had was the"complete control of the art and his fellow artists and workers."

Yet the measure of Brocka's greatness must take account as well of his life outsidethe accolades. It was the deep well from which he drew the intensity, if notthemes, for his films. He grew up in a broken family and experienced povertyand child abuse. The decade of the 60's found him struggling with issues of thesoul and survival. In Hawaii,he tried hard to be a Mormon missionary but the rebel in him could not keep thefaith.

Of Brocka's sojourn in Hawaii, Hernando wrotein 1993:

"Brocka had a lot of time to think and he began to put his own life intosome kind of perspective. He had gone from being a prize-winning high schoolgraduate with the world ahead of him, to a university dropout whose mothercompared him unflatteringly to his former classmates, and his search formeaning in life through the Mormon faith was unfulfilled.


"Gradually, he formedhis own credo for living: to be grateful for what he had, not to clutter hislife with non-essentials; to reject the excuse that something is futile andtherefore not worth doing; and finally resolving that ‘life will never put medown, I shall prove stronger than life.'"

After ending his missionary assignments he flew to San Francisco and lived among hoboes, workedas a busboy and in a hospital for the elderly. Still struggling with hispersonal issues and feeling utterly homesick he returned to the Philippinesin 1968.

He resumed his long-standing interest in theater through PETA (PhilippineEducation Theater Association), from doing menial tasks to eventually becomingexecutive director. On the road to becoming a movie director, he directedtelevision shows (Balintataw, Lino BrockaPresents, Hilda, Tanghalan) and worked as script supervisor for directorEddie Romero's films.

PEP retraces Lino Brocka's achievements in film over two decades. He madeover 60 movies. Many were commercial quickies, some were box-office hits; and others,powerful enough to pass the test of time.


Early Acclaim (1970-1972). Lino Brocka made his first movie in 1970 underLea Productions' Wanted: Perfect Mother with the cast of Boots Anson-Roa, Dante Rivero, Eddie Mercado,and Gina Alajar.He also wrote this melodrama, which won Best Screenplayin the 1970 Manila Film Festival.

That same year, he directed Santiago, winninghis second award, this time as Best Director from the Citizen's Council forMass Media. This action drama starred Fernando Poe, Jr. (FAMAS nomination forBest Actor), Hilda Koronel (Best Supporting Actress), and others in apowerhouse cast.

Brocka's other movies for Lea Productions included: Tubog sa Ginto(1971), which was controversial for its homosexual theme; Lumuha Pati MgaAnghel (1971), and Stardoom (1971).

Stardoom, a dark, tragicview of movie showbiz, garnered FAMAS nominations for Lolita Rodriguez(Best Actress) and Caridad Sanchez (BestSupporting Actress). The cast included Walter Navarro, Hilda Koronel, MarioO'Hara, Eddie Garcia and several other seasoned actors.

His early works appealed to mass audiences and made money, endearingBrocka to producers of the movie industry. But after nine movies with LeaProductions he became disgruntled with commercialism and fell silent in thefirst two years of Ferdinand Marcos's martial law regime.


CineManila's Short Happy Life (1974-1976). Brocka set up his independentoutfit, CineManila, and began to make films after his own heart. His landmarkmovie, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974),an indictment of religious prejudice against social outcasts in a local village,won six FAMAS awards and two nominations, including Best Picture and BestDirector; Best Actor (for Brocka's protégé Christopher de Leon) and BestActress (Lolita Rodriguez as the madwoman Kuala). Brocka wrote thescreenplay together with actor-director Mario O'Hara, who played a leper in thefilm.

Positive reviews by local and foreign critics continued with two moremasterpieces in tragic drama: Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975) andInsiang (1976).

Maynila, topbilled by anotherBrocka protégé, Bembol Roco, portrayed a young probinsyano's search for hissweetheart Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel) in the violence-ridden city. For hisrole as a tragic hero, Bembol bagged the FAMAS Best Actor award. Equallyrespected director Mike de Leon did the exquisite cinematography.


Insiang, a story of rape andrevenge set in Manila's Tondo slums, starred Hilda Koronel in the title role, forwhich she earned a FAMAS nomination as Best Actress. Mona Lisa won as BestSupporting Actress. The film also reaped several nominations from the GawadUrian. This was the first of Brocka's films to be shown and acclaimed at the prestigiousCannes Film Festival in France.

The two films did not make money inthe box office. Critics said the themes were too dark and profound for themasses. CineManila went bankrupt in 1976.

That downfall apparently forced Brocka to make a 180-degree turn away fromhis aesthetics and political beliefs. During the next two years he made fourmovies for Lotus Films with the lead star in mind: Tahan na Empoy, Tahan(1977) starring child wonder Niño Muhlach and Snooky Serna; Inay (1977)which tried to re-launch the 50's star Alicia Vergel; Ang Tatay Kong Nanay(1978), topbilled by Comedy King Dolphy with Niño Muhlach; and Mananayaw(1978) with then-sexpot Chanda Romero.


More Ups and Downs (1978-1985). This was a time of frenzied activityfor Direk Lino. He made almost 30 films that reflected his non-conformistnature. Critics described these films in varying degrees—from dull to compelling,incongruous to brilliant. Their uncertainty and slackness were attributed tohis personal problems, including financial troubles and his highly selective attitudein accepting or rejecting projects.

The 80's were also the years that Brocka's fellow travelers in the ConcernedArtists of the Philippines (CAP) would remember him as a frontline marcher inprotests against Ninoy Aquino'sassassination, dictatorship and the suppression of freedom of speech. He evenlanded in jail for his political convictions.

Hayop Sa Hayop (1978) and Init (1979) were consideredcommercial projects that did not sit well with the standards of film critics. ButIna Ka ng Anak Mo(1979) was significant for tackling the issue of prostitution.

For Jaguar (1979) and BayanKo: Kapit sa Patalim (1985) the critics were all praises. PhillipSalvador was the security guard whose loyalty to his master and dream to riseabove his lowly status were bitterly betrayed in the end. Jaguar also starred Amy Austria and Johnny Delgado, with screenplaywritten by Jose F. Lacaba and Ricardo Lee. It won the FAMAS Best Picture awardand was chosen by the Manunuri as one of the best films of the 70's. It wasshown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980.


Kapit sa Patalim (PhillipSalvador, Gina Alajar; screenplay by Jose F. Lacaba) was a tragic drama on theplight of a printing press worker forced to turn scab during a strike for thesake of his ailing wife, earning the ire of his fellow workers. Aside fromother laurels, the film won Best Picture from FAMAS and the British FilmInstitute. The Manunuri chose this as one of the best in the 80's.

The director worked with Superstar Nora Aunor in Bona (1980). This film and Jaguarwere screened at the Cannes Film Festival Director's Fortnight and Main Competition.

Miguelito, ang Batang Rebelde (1985) was the first film that Brockadirected after his release from prison. It combined drama and politicalcommentary, pitting a mother (Nida Blanca) who had an estranged son (AgaMuhlach) and who was unjustly imprisoned for a crime she did not commit,against a powerful politician (Eddie Garcia). Nida Blanca won the Best Actresstrophies of FAMAS and Gawad Urian.


Brocka Undefeated (1987-1991). Brocka hit the right formula for combiningthe elements of a commercial film with his artistic and political vison. Mostof his films during this period were produced by Viva Films.

Mario Hernando chose five from this period as Brocka's best works: thesex-drama Macho Dancer (1989), which once again depicted Brocka's takeon gay issues; Babangon Ako't Dudurugin Kita (1989), GumapangKa Sa Lusak (1990), Hahamakin Lahat (1990), and Sa Kabila ngLahat (1991).

In Babangon Ako't Dudurugin Kita (1989), Brocka pitted his protégés— Christopher de Leon, HildaKoronel and Bembol Roco—against Viva's prized star Sharon Cuneta. GumapangKa sa Lusak (1990) had a stellar cast composed of Dina Bonnevie, EddieGarcia, and Charo Santos.

Brocka did Hahamakin Lahat (1990) for Regal Films. This was histhird movie with Vilma Santos. The role called for Vilma to be dark, daringand innovative, a complete deviation fromcharacters usually portrayed by the sweet-faced Star for All Seasons. It showeda heroine entering into a marriage of convenience with a ruthless, schemingmayor, a character Brocka created to expose the hypocrisy and corruption ofsociety.


Sa Kabila ng Lahat (1991) was the last film he did that broughttogether Dina Bonnevie, Ronaldo Valdez, Nannette Medved, William Lorenzo,Celeste Legaspi, and Tonton Gutierrez.

Among the critic's chosen five, it was Macho Dancer that faredpoorly in the box office. Its gay theme, which was sensational at that time,did not lend added value to the cast, which consisted of newbies. The movie alsohad little publicity.

Movie critics hailed Orapronobis (1989) as the most mature work ofBrocka, a complex canvas of continuing oppression, political violence andinjustice in Philippine society. It was based on actual events, like the end ofmartial law, but the characters were fictionalized. It was banned from showingin the country. Written by Jose F. Lacaba, the hefty cast was led by PhillipSalvador, Gina Alajar, Dina Bonnevie, and Bembol Roco.

The depth and greatness of Lino Brocka's greatest works are incomparable.They had the power to stir up various responses from the audience: to beemotional, to be critical, to be dumbfounded. More than box-office value, hisbest films probed the conflicts of doomed characters and exposed dark socialrealities, leaving moviegoers to think and decide actions on their own.


For more on Lino Brocka see:

Mario Hernando, "Lino Brocka:Director in Control—BlendingPopular Entertainment, Realism and Social Comment," and excerpt, "LinoBrocka: The Artist and His Times" (1993), Link to Lino Brocka

Lino Brocka's life and filmography


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