The Ilian in two Baguio films by Mike De Leon

Joey (Christopher de Leon) and Anna (Hilda Koronel) in Mike De Leon’s Moments in a Stolen Dream, LVN/ Cinema Artists Philippines/ ABS-CBN Entertainment, 1977. Photo: Mike de Leon/ MoMA. Covered by fair use, no copyright infringement intended.

This essay revisits the films of Mike De Leon (1947—) on the occasion of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in November 2022, focusing on Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (Moments in a Stolen Dream, 1977) and Citizen Jake (2018) from the selection. The two films shot in Baguio, a former colonial hill station in Northern Philippines, are executed differently but venture an important thematic motif in the director’s career: bourgeois self-representation. Moments is a downbeat romantic drama about a brief encounter between a college guy and a married woman and Citizen Jake is a contemporary film noir about a young reporter who struggles with contradictions within his own social class and the impossible demands of his dysfunctional political family. While previous critiques of the films scrutinized the male leads, this essay will focus on the female protagonists, played by mixed-race actors (Hilda Koronel, Dina Bonnevie, Max Collins, and Cherie Gil). The film analysis will explore their contrasting femininities within the conventions of melodrama and how they relate to the urban landscape of Baguio. Drawing on Guy Debord’s idea of psychogeography, I develop the Ilian (highland, sanctuary, refuge) as a vernacular conceptual tool to critique Mike De Leon’s characterization of abused women as allegories of an embattled Philippines still grappling with Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial regime.

Keywords: bayan, film noir, melodrama, ili, igorot, cinematic city, dictatorship, zeus salazar

Email the author for the full article

Create a website or blog at