The Wombs of Oppression
by Don Jaucian
Ka Oryang (2011)
D: Sari Lluch Dalena
C: Alessandra de Rossi, Joem Bascon, Marife Necessto, Emilio Garcia, Che Ramos, Angeli Bayani
The challenge of making a film about martial law is the expectations that are piled upon it. Decades of ideals, recollections and harrowing accounts of ordeals form a greater part of the film’s blueprint, taking into consideration the period’s tumultuous history and complications. Sari Dalena’s Ka Oryang (which won the best picture prize in the recently concluded Cinema One Originals 2011) does exactly that, operating in an almost Joel Lamangan way. Dalena fortunately tones down the melodrama, letting the events unfold at a calculated pace that eventually bogs the film down.
Told in the perspective of Oryang (De Rossi), a doctor who helps activists hiding from the government’s iron clutches, the film doesn’t necessarily exploit the feelings of the audience through a barrage of grisly images. The film is too beautiful to behold, occasionally strewn with symbolic imagery that hints at an attempt to form a tone poem. Shots of birds in flight, a free flowing river and the clatter of leaves in a forest represent much of the film’s ideals. Dalena isn’t too subtle about her intentions and the weight of her images propel the film along.
The opening scene, a struggle between Diliman Commune and the police, projects a grim outlook with its brilliant use of grainy images where the water sprayed to subdue the protesters dissolves like a rain of clouds that represents the oppression rampant during the era. But as the film progresses, it winds down to a paralyzing calmness that even its most shocking tactics (scenes of women being tortured and raped) act as an epinephrine to a flatlining patient.
Its feminist ideals are fleshed out by a competent supporting cast. Angeli Bayani, Marife Necesito, and Che Ramos brim with forward-thinking perspectives. But De Rossi’s performance unfortunately falls flat. She withers as an observer of the times, reducing her own pains into a glacial spectacle of emotions. The film never takes off and when it does, it’s effect feels more like a cheat rather than an earnest connection to our emotions.
Ka Oryang’s sturdy feminist stance makes it a different chronicle of the Martial Law years. Teresa Barrozo’s excellent tinkling technotronic score prevents the film from spilling over into schmaltz territory while Dalena fuses experimental genes into the story. But more than anything else, Ka Oryang’s character study of female political detainees of the Martial Law years is a significant addition to a cinematic chapter of these times, allowing us to take in a broader outlook as to how these women have fought for principles that they have strongly believed in. The film may have its faults and shortcomings but the director’s unique vision and take on the material is strongly apparent.