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SOURCE: The Urian Anthology 1980-1989

REVIEW: Bulaklak sa City Jail

Joel David, Tinig ng Plaridel, 1985

Major Bid

“Bulaklak sa City Jail” is the last item in a series of outstanding
outputs by the local movie industry in 1984. Among other things, three
distinctions will be sure to secure for it at last a footnote in the
history of contemporary Philippine cinema, in terms of the people
involved in its production, marks an auspicious debut for the Cherubim
outfit, showcases Nora Aunor'’ best performance for her comeback year, and signals
the emergence of Mario O’Hara as a director whose command of craft
has finally caught up with his conscience---an expectation which seemed to
have been forgotten in the wake of similar successes by relatively more recent film
makers.

Audacious claims aside, the objective significance of “Bulaklak sa
City Jail” resides in its depiction of a realistic social condition in
high cine literary style---an infusion that provides ample enough tension
for the most of the movie’s successful portion as well as diffusion of
control in its less enlightening moments.

“Bulaklak sa City Jail” follows the searing odyssey of Angela, a
pregnant victim of a miscarriage of justice, from her incarceration in
the women’s section of an urban prison, through her escape and delivery
of her love child in a city zoo, to her recapture and eventual legal
triumph in obtaining custody of her baby. The city-jail sequences, which
take up more than two-thirds of the film, provide the justification
necessary for the above mentioned declarations: here O’Hara creates a
world self-contained in its observance of the perverse principles of
dehumanization. Largely through a combination of a near-consummate grasp
of technical elements as well as impressive performances derived from
sound casting, the said sequences manage to build up to a workable
microcosm of big-city brutality.

So much so that once the movie’s concerns step out of the city-jail
milieu, an imbalance ensues from an apparent confusion of purposes: if
the aim were to establish prison life as a representation of everyday
reality (as had been achieved in the film), then the device of reestablishing
the same statement in the outside world has resulted in
redundancy; if, on the other hand, the city were intended to reflect and
possibly amplify the conditions inherent in urban prisons, then city jail
portions may be faulted by over-development. As earlier stressed,
however, the portion of the film concentrated on the city-jail locale in
itself makes possible the felicitous declaration of a qualitative
adjustment in the capabilities of O’Hara.

So far the only pitfall he has stumbled into in “Bulaklak sa City
Jail” appears to be the pursuit of a more grandiose design (the city as
confirmation of the city-jail metaphor) at the expense of already
established premises. For the excursion of Angela into big-city
intrigues forces the film into a linear storytelling mode as the
characterization of city-jail types is abandoned for plot twists; here
the absurdities acceptable for enrichment of character begin to be
called to account, and are transformed, in the context of
conventionalized approaches, into glaring lapses of logic.

Foremost among these is the total absence of support for any of the
inmates. While this real-life improbability becomes necessary for the
organization of the dramatic lines of force among the inmates, the
artifice gets exposed once the Angela character is made to abandon the
city-jail schema and the audience consequently realizes that the last
jail victim she fought for before deciding to escape had connections
powerful enough to influence court decisions---a consideration that
makes their failure in releasing the victim-to-be-too obvious to be
ascribed to sheer negligence. A further inadequacy is evident in the
stack-up of coincidences that lead to the dragnet and delivery sequences
in the city zoo---admittedly the most impressive set-piece in the entire
movie---although the question here is more of intention rather than
method: why show the protagonist as trapped in a prison of murderous
animals when the same point had been driven home, in various degrees of
effectivity, in the city-jail and urban sojourns of the character? Here
a less accidental development of action would probably have rendered the
incident more satisfactory, unlike the forced (because false) wrap-up
where Angela’s love child is presented to his godparents---who turn out
to be the tragediennes of the city-jail portions. What were left behind
by Angela as hopeless preys to the dog-eat-dog system of prison life
turn out to be happy and whole after all, thereby contravening the
already weak post-city-jail turn of events.

Although “Bulaklak sa City Jail” would ordinarily have been doomed by
such compromises, the project does not appear to be as easily
dismissible, saved as it is by a surface perfection never before seen in
any Mario O’Hara, specifically in the combination of his willingness to
handle big themes (which has always been his strong point) with the
confidence of a veteran film craftsman.

Particularly noteworthy is his ability to recreate dramatic texture
through the interrelation of character progressions (in the city-jail
portion) and the use of ironic juxtapositions. Although these are
virtues that should be first credited to the screenwriter, it may do
observers well to keep in mind that O’Hara has written some of his own
films’ scripts and has done even better ones for other directors. A
continuing consciousness on his part of dramatic essentials will help
distinguish him from the Johnnys-come-lately of so-called serious
filmmaking, who in their less sober moments strive for flash without
regard for illuminative sources.

With “Bulaklak sa City Jail,” Mario O’Hara has begun his bid for
major-league filmmaking. And at no sooner a time than the present: too
long a period has elapsed since the viewers had such an opportunity to
sharpen their critical faculties to be able to keep up with progressive
artists who, by their long daring strides, set the pace for Philippine
cinema.