Semana Santa, or Holy Week, once again draws close. This is a yearly, weeklong celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Here in the Philippines, it is reflective, solemn, and, strangely, colorful – centuries-old festivals, lifelong traditions, and strange customs abound in those seven days.
One of these traditions are the movies aired on analog TV during the Holy Week in lieu of the channels’ standard programming – an odd mix of thought-provoking, culturally significant films taken anywhere from the 70s to the late 90s and beyond.
Curious, and looking for a different perspective, we asked for insight into this strange, cultural phenomenon from an unlikely source: a young, fresh-faced sophomore taking up a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts at one of Manila’s prominent Catholic universities. We hand-picked five Tagalog-language films almost synonymous with programming during the Semana Santa, and asked for her input as to why, exactly, these films are aired during the Holy Week, year after year, for almost as long as we can remember.
• Oro, Plata, Mata (Peque Gallaga, 1982)
“I haven’t seen it [on television] in a very long time. I’m not exactly a fan of this movie. Don’t get me wrong, though – I still see it as a good movie – the plot, acting, and cinematography are very good, it’s just that I have this feeling of not getting the entirety of what the movie has to offer – it was a revolutionary movie for its time. It’s difficult for me to view it as it is, because there’s this automatic comparison between Oro and the movies I see today. It makes me wish I could go back to 1982 just to see it back when it was first shown on the big screen, and compare it to the other films of that era … As to why it’s often shown during the Lenten season, I’m really unsure as to why – it might be because it focuses on a family, and showcases the horror and tragedy of war – an anti-war, family film, if you will.”
• Himala (Ishmael Bernal, 1982)
“Unlike Oro, Plata, Mata, I’ve seen this far more often in recent years. It’s a popular pick for [the] Holy Week, since it takes a stand against religion, rather than for it, especially with the ‘Walang himala!’ part. Come to think of it, it might be a good Semana Santa film because it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of blind faith, or how man screws up God’s plans for us because of our greed. It’s a timely and timeless film. All in all, it’s still a good movie, it hasn’t exactly aged well, but the message, at least in my opinion, is still intact.”
• Magnifico (Maryo J. de los Reyes, 2003)
“Now, this one, I remember quite fondly – I actually wrote a reaction paper about it back when I was in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever cried that hard because of a movie in my entire life. I re-watched it a year back with some friends, and I’d say it still holds up. Sure, the plot and production seem a lot more bare bones to us now, but the acting, the direction and writing are still pretty solid. As to why it’s a good movie for [the] Holy Week, I think it’s because it’s a simple, heart-warming, family-centered, yet ultimately tragic film.”
• Tanging Yaman (Laurice Guillen, 2000)
“To put it plainly, it’s a simple, well-directed, well-acted film about a family and religion. It’s relatively well written, although it gets a bit preachy at times. Also, it was really successful at the box office. If that doesn’t merit a yearly screening during Lent, I don’t know what does.”
• Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Lino Brocka, 1975)
“This is a horrible movie – no, not in a negative way – it’s horrible because it makes life in Manila look like a quagmire of misery, hopelessness and poverty, from which there is absolutely no escape. It’s beautifully shot, though – and captures the terrible feeling of having your hopes and expectations of bright lights and prosperity being destroyed really well. As to why it’s a pick for Holy Week programming, it makes up a Manila that’s genuinely more horrible than the real one – and that makes the audience genuinely thankful for what they currently have, amid sighs of – ‘well, at least it’s not that bad.’”