Movie Review:
REVIEW: Condemned

Film Ratings Board, 1984

Rated "A"

A sense of irony pervades the film "Condemned" from its title through its screenplay to its unexpected ending. To begin with, an English title for a Filipino film like "Condemned" seems to strike a jarring note to an otherwise commendable piece. On the other hand, is it really anachronistic, or merely characteristic, of our bilingual culture that we easily shift from English titles to Filipino material? Perhaps the motivation for such a title would entail a different discussion altogether.

The film is not only Filipino film but a fine one in practically every respect, starting with the gripping screenplay which comes to life under the adroit direction of Mario O' Hara. It is a flawed jewel but a finely polished one nonetheless. It is a refreshing departure from the predictable and the prosaic elements that one encounters in many, if not most, Filipino films. For the most part, it veers away from the cloying melodramatic acting coaxed from our Filipino actors.

As the tragic heroine, Nora Aunor turns in a sensitive and restrained portrayal of touching vulnerability --- her deep love for her psychotic killer-brother played convincingly by Dan Alvaro, her helplessness in the face of adversity or her quiet rage as she daringly confronts the arch villainess played with surprising flair by Gloria Romero. The closeness between the brother and sister plays up an unusual sister-brother relationship which is central to the plot but which is a theme rarely fully developed in Filipino films. One wonders if there is more to the relationship than actually meets the eye. Though Dan Alvaro has appeared in numerous action films and died in most of them, he makes his mark in "Condemned" with his striking screen presence. A majority of the previewers considered both Nora and Dan as perfectly cast, with the supporting cast providing creditable performances.

The locale appeared authentically Ermita, especially exciting at night with its interesting cafes, shop windows, designer's boutique, old church and flower vendors. Aside from the human interest inherent in the story is the added excitement of the "Boy Rosas" mystery. Although to some members, both the exposition of the locale and the unfolding of the thriller were rather slow and "drawn out" --- development attributed to some uncertainty in direction in the early part of the film (like the first thirty minutes).

In retrospect, some flaws detected and remarked upon by the Board members were:

  • (1) the initial uncertainty as to the direction the film was taking in the first half
  • (2) the need for better editing
  • (3) the occasionally uneven quality of cinematography and sound
  • (4) the tendency to cram into the story too many "symbolisms" and "inferences" --- perhaps the reference was to the repeated use of the rose and the knife, the trunk dripping blood, the flashback to Dan's psychotic behavior and the recurring nightmares.
  • (5) some inclusion of unnecessary histrionics (such as Connie Angeles' hysterical reaction and the angry exchange between "Boy Rosas" and his girlfriend)
  • (6) Above all, the almost constant resort to blatant violence and gore.

    In contrast to these derogatory details are the more successful features of "Condemned":

  • (1) the generally well-honed performances of the cast, especially "La Aunor" and Alvaro
  • (2) the interesting material with just the right scope and treatment
  • (3) the generally pleasing technical finish
  • (4) the generally consistent and tight pacing
  • (5) the generally good and straightforward cinematography
  • (6) the skillful direction of O'Hara

    In the succinct words of one previewer, the film "operates successfully on several levels."

    Where is the ironic twist in the story and in its conclusion? As her brother kills again and again for money and is in turn killed because of money, Nora, who finally gets her hands on the money in question, provides the supreme irony in the film by literally "throwing it to the winds" in one grand defiant gesture. Was the money worth all the murders incurred? Perhaps not, but the film was certainly worth reviewing and worth mulling over in one's mind. A story of "condemned" people but a triumphant one for its stars.