The Philippines this year is celebrating the 37th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. To understand the importance of this monumental event-turned-holiday in the Philippines, it is important to first discuss the elephant in the room: Martial Law.
"Martial Law" refers to a period in Philippine history when the late dictator and former President Ferdinand Marcos enforced military rule. Even with objective facts (estimated 70,000 people imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, 3,240 killed) from credible institutions such as Amnesty International, the topic of Martial Law has polarized Filipinos time and time again, in and out of elections.
This is why PhilSTAR Life compiled this movie watch list that serves as a cultural companion seamlessly introducing our loved ones to the contentious topic. After all, popular culture exists to popularize the human experience, including a nation's history.
These films are spiritually associated with the EDSA People Power Revolution, even though many of them were made decades after the Martial Law period ended. They all offer unique perspectives on the topic of Martial Law and EDSA while still being faithful to facts. Most importantly, they are told from the point of view of the Filipino people.
Thus, the following movie titles pack nuance and fairness in the ways they tackle Philippine history. It was never just the Marcoses versus the Aquinos, as no side is meant to exemplify a false dichotomy of what is good and evil. Instead, turn to these films that show a bigger picture through the motion picture.
Anino sa Likod ng Buwan (2015)
This Jun Lana title strips bare all of the elaborate production design from his earlier, equally effective Martial Law-themed film Barber's Tales in favor of a seemingly one-shot film set in a single location with only three characters. The post-EDSA story takes place years after the Marcos dictatorship in a country where rebellion and authoritative military presence continue to take root. It examines why that is when on the surface, the number-one enemy is supposedly gone.
Batch '81 (1982)
Much like its contemporaries, this movie about fraternity recruitment discusses Martial Law through its subtext. Male students who have no power are applying to join a fraternity of men with all of the power; it's pretty straightforward. This Mike De Leon film gets even more candid, repeatedly interrogates an applicant (and by extension, the audience), "Ang Martial Law, nakabuti sa taumbayan. Tama o mali?"
Curacha: Ang babaeng walang pahinga (1998)
It is a common misconception that post-EDSA Philippines is a peaceful happy ending, which couldn't have been further from the truth as the late President Cory Aquino's term was marked by successive coup attempts. This period of political unrest is unusually (yet effectively) demonstrated by the said film focusing on a torera (live sex show performer) known as Curacha, played by Rosanna Roces. Who would've thought that the word "coup" would be used in the context of the titular character going down on a man? Only Filipino screenwriting legend Ricky Lee.
Dekada '70 (2002)
Worth watching, if only to see Kris Aquino as a student leader speaking publicly during a protest. Otherwise, it is feminism at its finest, empowering the character of a mother in what her husband calls a "man's world." Want to know how families were affected by Martial Law? This picture is for you.
To discuss Liway's authenticity is to take that opportunity away from its director, Kip Oebanda. This moving narrative of imprisoned parents raising their child in jail, hoping that he will live to tell the tale, succeeds on many levels. We can safely say Oebanda inherited Commander Liway's storytelling ability.
The late Eddie Garcia's performance as a demented military veteran is the saving grace of this torture porn film, which borders on campiness due to its over-the-top violence. All of this works for the film, however, which discusses both the brutality and impunity of Martial Law, as seen in its victims who keep looking for justice only to find it so elusive.
This politically charged film easily stands among Lino Brocka's bravest. While not particularly remembered in his oeuvre, that is simply because the National Artist directed other more visible films like Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Insiang. Notwithstanding, some film professors will tell you that Orapronobis is the director's best since many filmmakers had the courage to criticize Martial Law, but only Brocka was among the few who had the guts to also hold the Aquino administration accountable.
This Cinemalaya-sweeping film narrates the extrajudicial killings of former President Rodrigo Duterte's administration from the eyes of an aspiring rapper (played by FlipTop battle emcee Abra). Aside from its innovative, original use of poetry and music as a storytelling device, the film is not afraid to go deep into its themes. In fact, it hit two birds with one stone: visualizing the Drug War's human impact in the slums, while relating the topic of Martial Law and how it gave rise to the culture of violence from one generation to the next. In the wrong hands, that goal could easily be forced and contrived, but not in the masterful filmmaking of Treb Monteras II.