Two women

Business World - - Weekender - By Noel Vera

LAST Oc­to­ber my mother died. Which to the world at large may not mean much. But it was with her in mind that I saw the dig­i­tally re­stored ver­sion of Mario O’Hara’s Tat­long Taong Walang Diyos ( Three Years With­out God, 1976), re­cently re­leased on iTunes. (Warn­ing! Story de­tails and plot twists are ex­plic­itly dis­cussed) Not an in­ap­pro­pri­ate choice. I was in a dark mood and the film — well the open­ing nar­ra­tion says it all: three years so aw­ful the peo­ple felt aban­doned by God. The film opens with the start of World War 2: Rosario (Nora Aunor) is en­gaged to Crispin (Bem­bol Roco), who leaves her to fight the Ja­panese. Ja­panese of­fi­cer Ma­sugi (Christopher de Leon) rapes Rosario, leav­ing her preg­nant with two un­happy al­ter­na­tives: to re­sist Ma­sugi’s of­fer of mar­riage and starve with the rest of her fel­low Filipinos, or ac­cept the of­fer and be called a Ja­panese sym­pa­thizer (or worse). Fol­low­ing Rosario’s story I re­al­ized: Rosario at some level is my mother. Not that my mother ex­pe­ri­enced war and its hor­rors or that she was ever caught in an in­del­i­cate po­si­tion be­tween two suit­ors but this: the world was con­vinced that it was right and she was wrong. And no mat­ter what she did or how much she tried to change things, the world re­mained con­vinced that it was right and that she was still wrong. My mother’s sin was to marry into a wealthy fam­ily. Oh she worked hard to be ac­cepted; she went back to school and stud­ied vet­eri­nary medicine (she al­ready had a busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion de­gree) to help in the fam­ily’s farm­ing op­er­a­tions. She bore two chil­dren — me and my twin brother — which ideally should have de­lighted all in­volved. But, the na­ture of my fam­ily be­ing what it is (And who am I to judge when some­thing acts ac­cord­ing to its na­ture?), there was al­ways ten­sion. My mother, be­ing strong­willed, never gave up try­ing — first, to be brought into their good graces; later, to be free of their hold and in­flu­ence. Rosario never did any­thing by halves. When she’s set against some­thing — against Ma­sugi’s pro­posal to make her a Ja­panese of­fi­cer’s (a lieu­tenant from the look of his in­signia) wife — she’s feet-planted-firmly-in-the­ground against it, de­spite re­peated plead­ing from Ma­sugi (who says he wants to do right by her) and from her mother. When my mother once left my fa­ther af­ter an es­pe­cially bit­ter fight, she took me along (I was — what — seven or eight years old?) and fled to the prov­inces. Only me? What about my fa­ther? What about my brother, from whom I’d never been sep­a­rated? But she was fu­ri­ous, and would not be con­tra­dicted. Rosario re­lents; so even­tu­ally did my mother. While ca­pa­ble of change, it’s not easy for th­ese women; O’Hara mea­sures the depth of that change from the tip of Rosario’s arms, sit­ting atop a high bridge, to the rocky bot­tom of a chasm be­low. I mea­sured my mother’s anger by the miles she drove me away from home. When Rosario changed course, she stuck to that course for the rest of the war; when my mother came back to my fa­ther, she stayed with him for the rest of her life — bore him four more girls in fact, all of which I sus­pect are more emo­tion­ally ma­ture than I can ever be. And the world still would not for­give either women, would not let them for­get they were out­siders, would not let them for­get they were wrong. Did I say my mother never ex­pe­ri­enced war? She was in con­stant bat­tle. Ar­guably the most des­per­ate, most ex­haust­ing con­flicts are fought not be­tween na­tions or peo­ples but within a na­tion or peo­ple — or, if you like, within a fam­ily. It cost my mother dearly, I think; part of that cost is the sup­pres­sion of af­fec­tion be­tween us. If I want to drive my­self crazy I try un­tan­gle that com­plex knot of feel­ings fes­ter­ing in my head: why did it hap­pen and who is to blame? Some­times I as­sign all fault to my­self, some­times to no one. Some­times I look hard on my­self and see the dis­ap­point­ment I must have been to her. Some­times I the­o­rize (Fan­ta­size?) that in her need to fi­nally be rid of my fa­ther’s fam­ily al­to­gether and live life with her hus­band and chil­dren as she sees fit, ev­ery­thing else fell away in her eyes, in­clud­ing (though she may not have in­tended it) my­self. Some­times I think my mother’s pri­vate war was so ex­haust­ing, so full of de­spair, I had to get away from her to sur­vive my­self. How bad did things get? When I heard news of her death (I hadn’t seen her in 15 years) not a tear. I was stone in­side. I watch Rosario as the war wound down to its end and I see how the world nar­rows around her, how a Ja­panese of­fi­cer’s wife — his whore, as many folks call her — is forced to run in smaller and smaller cir­cles, seek­ing es­cape. She can’t af­ford to be nice; when the city is bombed and her house­maid goes into hys­ter­ics she slaps the young girl, drags her away. The world is fall­ing apart and her fo­cus is sharp­ened into a mi­cro­scopic point: the need to keep her fam­ily safe. The need to stay by her hus­band’s side. I thought of my mother in the months af­ter her third stroke, her world nar­rowed down to a sin­gle bed, par­a­lyzed, un­able to speak, barely able to see and touch and hear. And still for all I know loyal to her hus­band, still fight­ing that war in­side her head. The world, af­ter its great de­pres­sion, its sim­mer­ing wars, its es­ca­lat­ing na­tion­al­ist and po­lit­i­cal and racial ten­sions, seems to have less and less use for art, for the way art re­fracts life, the way it un­set­tles us and star­tles us into see­ing that life in a new way. I don’t know; I dis­agree. I take a stand with my mother against the world and as­sert — never mind if I’m wrong — that while life has pri­mary im­por­tance, art still has last­ing value. I have many rea­sons for be­ing fond of this film, and have found a new one: in its pro­found em­pa­thy for its char­ac­ters, good or evil right or wrong, it has brought my mother back to me.

Video Re­view Tat­long Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years With­out God) Di­rected by Mario O’Hara

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