Filipino director Lino Brocka straddles melodrama and rape revenge in his movie Insiang. And I hope my use of the latter phase does not offend nor confuse. It’s a strange entry for the genre, yes. There’s violence in the film in all its definitions. The titular character (Hilda Koronel) spends the first half of the movie to ward off her enemies. But she does it like a ‘good girl’ would. Besides, the things that happen to her during the first half don’t warrant for her to use her metaphoric weapons. Brocka and screenwriter Mario O’Hara wisely uses that time to set the character’s growing tensions.
Before the film began, TIFF gave the stage to Robert Diaz. Diaz an assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at UofT. He sees the film as a result of Marcos era repression. He theorizes that the Filipino condition from Marcos onward is an inner battle. Marcos tried to eradicate the poor yet their forbidden pleasures bubble to the surface. This makes sense as Insiang faces two men. Both belong within the spectrum between a ‘nice guy’ and a big bad wolf.
The wolf comes in the form Dado (Ruel Vernal). He’s the butcher and the barangay bully who worms his way into her bellicose mother Tonya’s (Mona Lisa) heart. The ‘nice guy’ is her on and off boyfriend Bebot (Rez Cortez). He’s gunning for Dado’s position as the slum’s alpha male with his promises to Insiang. She says no to both men politely, despite their persistent offers to take her to the sinehan. Both use the excuse that they’re men who can’t control themselves. When Dado rapes her, however, she decides to strike back. Her way of doing so he does baffles her chatty neighbours but is clear to the audience. She begins an affair with him.
Watching this I imagined the prejudices that both Filipino and Western audiences might have against Filipino film. One reason I can come up with is this stereotype that Filipino film characters are loud and boorish. And again, the film has its share of that. It has people who wear their frustrations on their sleeves and yell them out. Insiang doesn’t resort to those tactics, which might make some audience members misconstrue her as a Maria Clara. But she’s smarter than that, using the violence around her to destroy the ones who betrayed her.
I’ve had short discussions on the film’s ending, which a friend of mine thinks is an unnecessary epilogue. I disagree. The ending says a lot about Insiang. Insiang a young woman with a fighting spirit. Insiang knows how to play a game that the characters around her have forced her into. She also knows when to stop. She reveals to Tonya that she never loved Dado. This mirrors an earlier confession to a store owner that she no longer loves her mother as well. This is a bittersweet ending for both that haunts. Insiang lives in a world of impulsive people run by pleasure and addiction. But within that Brocka shows us a character study of a woman whose heart has understandably gone cold.