Ron has sent us more reviews of Nora movies. It's from The Urian Anthology, 1980 - 1989, a Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino collection of movie essays. Urian members, I hope it's okay that I posted the reviews of Nora movies from the book. All Noranians all over the world will be grateful to read the reviews and ultimately, will purchase the book once it is available online. If you want it remove from the website, email me at pinoymovies@yahoo.com and I will remove it immediately. Thank you.
Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984)
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 filmmakers.

Audacious claims aside, the objective significance of “Bulaklak sa City Jail” resides in its depiction of a realistic social condition in high cineliterary 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 re-establishing 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.