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Source: The Urian Anthology 1970-1979

Review: Atsay and Rubia Servios

Isagani Cruz, TV Times, 1979

Atsay and Rubia Servios

Undoubtedly, the two best entries in the 1978 Metro Manila Film
Festival are "Atsay" and "Rubia Servios."

"Atsay" is remarkable in several ways. It has a strong social
message, aimed at primarily those who forget that maids are also human
beings. In the character of Mrs. Anton (Angie Ferro), screenwriter Edgar
M. Reyes is able to embody the thousand faults which middle-class
housewives are heir to.

"Atsay" can also pride itself on being truly Filipino. Its mood is
set by its Pilipino credits (in sharp contrast to the English credits of
the other entries). The film deliberately exploits local color, dwelling
not only on rural but also on picturesque urban scenes. The story,
needless to say, can happen only in the Philippines, where domestics and
beerhouses are national institutions.

But the most striking thing about "Atsay" is its cinematography
(Romeo Vitug). The slow dissolves, the multiple exposures (such as the
brilliant train sequence), the surprising angles, the flawless
composition---these border on genius. The cinematography is so
extraordinary, in fact, that it covers a multitude of sins.

The most grievious sin of all is the ending. In the end, Nelia (Nora
Aunor), after having been humiliated, beaten, raped, dehumanized by the
vultures of the city, decides to stay in the city anyway in the hope
that an impoverished construction worker (Ronald Corveau) will make her
live happily ever after. Such an ending, while assuring the viewer that
human nature is not totally evil, is unmotivated and, in fact, goes
against the very theme of the story.

For "Atsay" is the story of how the city dehumanizes, of how human
beings become swine (this pointis made through blatant symbolism in a
shot of Nelia inside a cage-like jeep), of how Manila is a prison (note
Vitug's several shots of cage-like structures). "Atsay" is a story of
hoe individuals are no match against the cruelty of the city. The
construction worker, for example, becomes the victim of a construction
accident. A young pretty virgin from the province is raped while she's
drugged. A kind-hearted old man is shot down while protesting against
exploitation.

The ending of "Atsay" contradicts the film's affirmations. It would
have been much more in keeping with the theme (not to mention the
current concerns of the national human settlements program), if Nelia
were shown rejecting the city and, in hope, returning to her province
for a new life.

"Rubia Servios," on the other hand, does not dilute the message.
Willy (Phillip Salvador), the son of a powerful and wealthy figure, is
portrayed as totally evil, devoid of any redeeming quality. To
screenwriter Mario O'Hara and director Lino Brocka, the province is the
same as the city. Rubia Servios (Vilma Santos) is raped both in the city
and in the country. Rubia kills Willy in the country. Violence unites
all places. It is the "unity" of conception, scripting, design, and
direction, in fact, that "Rubia Servios" is superior to "Atsay." Lino
Brocka does not waste shots in is attempt to create a Filipino classical
tragedy. He subordinates everything to the building up of one emotion in
the viewer, that of hatred of Willy. So despicable does Willy become at
the end that, when he is murdered by Rubia, no viewer can say that Rubia
is at fault. And yet, morally speaking, no one is allowed to take the
law into his own hands. The law, in fact, put Willy in prison for the
first rape. There is no reason to think that the law will not put Willy
to death for the second rape. By conditioning the reader to condone
Rubia's revenge, Brocka succeeds in questioning one of our deeply-rooted
moral beliefs.

The unity that characterizes "Rubia Servios" contrasts sharply with
the tendency of Eddie Garcia in "Atsay" to exploit Vitug's versatility
even at the expense of tightness. There are shots in "Atsay," for
example, which could easily be cut without hurting the film's integrity.
Even the train sequence, one of the best sequences in "Atsay," is far
too long.

"Rubia Servios" is Lino Brocka's film; "Atsay" is Romeo Vitug's. Nora
does an excellent acting job; but so does Vilma Santos, and "Rubia" is a
much more demanding and difficult role. Edgardo M.. Reyes is an
established literary figure, but Mario O'Hara is much better
screenwriter. Overall, "Atsay" may be much more impressive than "Rubia
Servios." In terms of challenging our moral and legal convictions,
however, "Rubia Servios" is much more significant.


sent to us by Ron