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Nakaw na Pag-ibig

Source: Movie Times, Isagani Cruz

Of course, it is unfair to compare Lino Brocka's Nakaw na Pag-ibig (1980)
to Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925). Comparing a film
adaptation to the original novel is, at best, dangerous, and at worst,
irrelevant. Moreover, Nakaw na Pag-ibig is definitely not one of Brocka's
best films. An American Tragedy is Dreiser's masterpiec; in fact, the novel
is still considered one of the major works of American literature, even of
world literature. But the credits of Nakaw na Pag-ibig clearly state that the
film is based on Dreiser's novel. A quick look at the novel, then, does not
seem too much out of place.

Based on the true story of a man who killed his pregnant girlfriend,
Dreiser's novel is primarily a study of society, of how powerless men are to
control the force of social organization. Although the novel does dwell on
the main character's sense of guilt, Dreiser is less interested in individual
psychology than in collective oppression. Dreiser's main theme is that
men are not created equal: those who try to rise above their predestined
social class are bound to be punished by society.

In the novel, Clyde Griffiths dreams of joining the world of the wealthy. He
has an affair - more physical than emotional - with a factory girl named
Roberta Alden, who becomes pregnant. At the same time, he meets
Sondra Finchley, a wealthy but silly woman who pays attention to him
"just for fun." Because Sondra is about to marry him and thus fulfill his
dreams of becoming rich, Clyde decides to kill Roberta. Alone wtih her on
a rowboat, however, he hesitates, unable to commit murder. Unexpectedly,
the boat capsizes and Roberta drowns. Half the novel is spent on the
events after the accident. Clyde is arrested, tried and executed for the
"murder" of Roberta. Dreiser's intent is clear: he means to point out that
society punishes those who fall for its traps, who seek the wealth that
society itself puts up as desirable.

Nakaw na Pag-ibig,  however, is not a social film. Although there are two or
three lines about the gap between the rich and the poor, the film is really a
study of Phillip Salvador, a law student working in a testile factory. He
sleeps with Nora Aunor, a worker at the same factory, until the owner of
the factory hires him as a family driver. Hilda Koronel, the daughter of the
owner, falls for him; they have an affair. Both Aunor and Koronel are
pregnant. Marriage to Koronel is planned and Salvador finds himself in an
impossible situations. In the last ten minutes or so of the film, Salvador
takes Aunor to the top of a mountain in Baguio; she falls accidentally top
her death, he is tried and sentenced to death.

Like Clyde, Salvador dreams of escape from poverty. Besides studying
law at night, he tries his best not to offend his superiors at the factory. In
fact, he is left alone with Koronel because her father orders him to be her
bodyguard. There is a scene where he looks with longing at a group of
Koronel's rich friends; we can see in his eyes that he wishes to be one of

One of the cliches of Filipino films is the slapping sequence; almost every
film has a confrontation scene complete with characters slapping each
other. Brocka uses his cliche to his advantage in Nakaw na Pag-ibig. The
first time Koronel tries to slap him, Salvador fights back, unwilling to
compromise his dignity as a human being. In the second slapping
sequence, he is slapped by Aunor; he allows her to him him, revealing a
loss of his strong self-will. In the third slapping sequence, he allows
Koronel to hit him again and again; he has lost all his self-respect in his
search for wealth. In the last confrontation scene he hits Aunor, thus
reversing the social role; he now no longer respects other people's dignity.

The film succeeds as far as the psychological portrayal of Salvador's
character is concerned. As he rises in social class, he falls in strength of
will and integrity. In the beginning, he works and studies hard; towards the
end, he becomes completely service to Koronel and her father, to a point
where he cannot even murder Aunor on his own. It is nice irony that the
first classroom sequence shows the law professor discussing
"involuntary servitude"; Salvador is a slave to his desires, to Koronel's
passion, to her father's wealth.

The film fails, however, as far as the social content of Dreiser's novle is
concerned. (This is where comparing film with novel becomes tricky.)
Dreiser was more concerned with the events after the accidents; Brocka
uses only the last minutes of his film to show the trial. Society is not really
to blame for Salvador's tragedy; his sex drive - or his heart - is more clearly
at fault.

By focusing attention on Aunor and Koronel, Brocka diverts the viewer
from the crux of the problem. The story is really Salvador's; in a sense,
both Aunor and Koronel are only supporting actresses. But because the
two actresses are more popular than Salvador, Brocka is forced to give
them equal screen time. That is a mistake. Aunor and Koronel are merely
indispensable objects of Salvador's lust and love. They are there to clarify
his situation; it is he who develops in the story.

When A Place in the Sun (1951) - an earlier screen adaptation of Dreiser's
novel - was released, it was criticized for having "downplayed Dreiser's
relentless cynical observations on the malaise of American society." A
similar criticism can be made about Nakaw na Pag-ibig. The latest film by
Brocka is an excellent study of an individual's tragic loss of will, but it is
not Dreiser's novel. (TV Times, February 10-16, 1980, p.9)