Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976)

Hilda Koronel in Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976)


A young woman finds in her mother the horror of her own future

Suffocated by all other possibilities of her youth, the mutual betrayal escalates silently in Lino Brocka’s revenge drama.

In a poor quarter of Manila, the once pretty, savvy and troubled market woman Tonya (Mona Lisa) lives with her glowingly beautiful and caring daughter,  Insiang (Hilda Coronel, whose beauty was deemed unbelievable to have come from the slums by the Cannes Jury to which Brocka replied ‘But she is from the slums!”). They have to provide for countless relatives. There is no privacy possible in their narrow, haphazardly constructed shanty-house with everything weighing down at them. Usurers and opportunists call and strain them into commitments and commissions, yet offering no protection.

Insiang’s everyday life is burdened by tidying up the house and taking orders from her stressed, always heartless, domineering mother, who subordinates her so that everything is held together. Nevermind if they make actual sense or not. The men in their environment appear not to share the same predicament. They are shown hanging outside, drinking gin or soft drinks and cat calling the young girls in the neighbourhood. They hang out in small tiendas surrounded by the ominous air of gossips and nagging.

In their muscular shirts, sweaty skin, they have a certain something in their bored vitality. The camera scans  their powerful bodies. They work (when they can) in slaughterhouses, street kitchens, as car locksmiths.

“I do not like what you do with me when we go to the movies,” Insiang tells  her friend from this clique. She is afraid that sex will lead her to the same predicament where her mother is: embittered because she had to sacrifice herself for her children, and desperate to recover the chance to get some life with sex from a young hot manly man.

The mother brings the much younger Dado (Ruel Vernal) as a lover into her house. She is blind to the immediate danger this causes to her fragile matriarchal structure. He is a big, well-grown type of hunk, with a threatening, self-conscious sex appeal. And, in fact, he’s more passionate and serious about it around Insiang than to her mother.

One night, he sneaks in and forcibly, breaks her resistance and unleashes his lust for her. This begins a regularly, stolen, nocturnal encounter. Alone in her room, her gloomy, jealous and murderous side peels off unexpectedly.

Everything is tightly interwoven and often in Lino Brocka’s Insiang (1976), the focus of guilt bounces back and forth, the picture turns to every detail that reveals more about the people. Insiang fights in her mother a horror of her own future, the mother insists Insiang the possibilities of youth. Who has (more) right to freedom / sex / love / gratitude / respect, who has to do without? Their mutual betrayal ofescalates silently and stubbornly, reactions generate counterreactions, one takes the other less and less and announces the obligations: What seemed to be a problem with the men at first is much more intertwined with the problem of the women, their frustrated love for each other and the fear that one can take one’s life. There are many of these female fights outside of art and movies. But it is unusual for a film to be so differentiated and so deeply embedded in this motif.


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