1976 // Philippines // Lino Brocka
Starting from the first image of Insiang, a squeaking pig is slain directly with a knife to its throat while being hung upside down in a slaughterhouse, Lino Brocka’s volatile blend of realism and melodrama is aimed to be brutally grim and indelibly blunt in the following ninety minutes. It also set as an allegory to the forthcoming cruelty inflicted upon the eponymous character. In the broader sense of storytelling, the sufferings of Insiang (Hilda Koronel) alludes to Robert Bresson’s Mouchette (1967), albeit disparate significantly in both style and tone. Insiang suffers from the mistreatment by her scornful and domineering mother Tonya (Mona Lisa) whose husband left her for a mistress, the bitter Tonya transposes her hatred onto Insiang and the relatives on her husband’s side, so much so that she evicted her jobless sister-in-law (Mely Mallari) and relatives from her house.
The film is shot in the the slum area of Tondo, Manila. The filthy, unscrupulous livelihood serves more than a mere backdrop, it further reinforces the sombre realistic tone and adds an extra layer of agony on Insiang’s miserable life. After the relatives are evicted, Tanya’s young macho and bullying boyfriend Dado (Ruel Vernal) moves in who apparently has a sexual desire on Insiang. Insiang is in a relationship with the moustached mechanic Bebot (Rez Cortez), instead of being protective of his lover, Bebot cowardly succumbs under Dado’s threat. Alike Mouchette, the innocent Insiang is raped, and Tonya chooses to believe the assailant’s words over her own daughter. Intended to elope with Bebot, Insiang eventually spend a night together in a hotel but is ditched the next morning.
Men in the film is depicted either as the source of evilness, or simply ineffectual and futile in offering comfort. Aside from Bebot, the young neighbouring boy Nanding (Marlon Ramirez) secretly has a crush on Insiang, but he provide no tangible help except proclaiming trust. The screenplay was written by Mario O’Hara and Lamberto E. Antonio, which is adapted from a novel of Mr O’Hara. The film was shot in seven days, an audacious efficiency considering the end result of this highly calibrated melodrama suffusing with social critique on poverty and cruelty.
The film’s last act demonstrates the infection of that cruelty and, thereby, how an innocent, caring woman transforms into a vengeful and calculated spirit. Nevertheless the film still maintains a sentimental sympathy towards the victimised women, including both Insiang and Tonya. In 1978, Insiang was the first Filipino film to be screen at Cannes Film Festival and arguably the first one to receive international attention, indeed Lino Brocka had made another tremendous film Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) beforehand which I absolutely admire, all it needs is a proper release from Criterion hopefully sooner rather than later.