(director/writer: Lino Brocka; screenwriters: Lamberto Antonio/Mario O’Hara; cinematographer: Conrado Baltazar; editor: Augusto Salvador; music: Minda D. Azarcon; cast: Ruel Vernal (Dado), Carpi Asturias (Mr. Karyas), Marlon Ramirez (Nanding Karyas), Nina Lorenzo (Ludy Karyas), Mely Mallari (Tonya’s Sister-in-law), Rez Cortez (Bebot), Hilda Koronel (Insiang), Mona Lisa (Tonya); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG-13; executive producer: Ruby Tiong Tan; Digital Rights Group; 1979-Philippnes-in Filipino, Tagalog, English, with English subtitles if needed)

“You can almost smell the garbage in the street!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filipino director Lino Brocka (“Macho Dancer “/”Jaguar “) passionately directs this classic melodrama, shot in a docudrama style and on location (you can almost smell the garbage in the street!). It’s considered by many critics as the best film to come out of the Philippines. Brocka co-wrote it with Lamberto Antonio and Mario O’Hara. It’s based on a story by O’Hara.

It opens at a slaughterhouse in the Tondo shantytown in Manilla, as a part-time butcher (who will later appear as a rapist) inserts his knife into the neck of a live cow dressed for the kill. It will end with this same butcher being knifed to death in a similar bloody way.

The titled character, Insiang (Hilda Koronel), is seen living in poverty in a cramped apartment in shantytown, as a hard-working, saintly, virgin who is trapped into living with a mean-spirited, miserly, acerbic, hot-tempered and sexually depraved mother, Tonya (Mona Lisa). Mom is bitter her husband recently left her for his girlfriend. The unbearable mom tosses out of her apartment her husband’s leeching family, her sister-in-law (Mely Mallari) from the provinces, and her extended family, and moves in her much younger thuggish gigolo boyfriend Dado (Ruel Vernal). The lazy drunken bum is a bad guy, a petty thief and gambler, who makes Insiang feel uncomfortable by always eyeing her sexually while her mom from hell ignores her complaints. There seems to be no escape from this bad situation, as Insiang’s immature suitor,  Bebot (Rez Cortez), is of a poor character himself and is not good marriage material.

When the lustful Dado is angered by Insiang rejecting him, he answers by violently raping her. This changes Insiang’s behavior forever and is the turning point of the film, as she becomes emboldened and now lives to get her revenge on those who wronged her when she was most vulnerable. That she convincingly makes this change, keeps things real and uneasy, and gives the film its edge. The brilliant performance by the young actress Hilda Koronel made this film special.

Though the awful living conditions and the cast of characters are familiar sights in these type of realistic sociopolitical films, this melodrama has an intensity that gets under your skin and leads to one of the best closing scenes ever if you have the stomach for it.

Insiang Lino Brocka