MEET THE AUDIENCE / HIGHLIGHT | 04/04/2018
Miracle (Himala) is hailed as the most distinguished work of Philippine master Ishmael Bernal. The film is a powerful depiction of the religious-political sensibilities of the Filipinos, through the story of a woman who is presumed to possess miraculous healing powers. Before the film’s screening on 3 April at the sky cinema, Bernal’s screenwriter, Ricky Lee, was invited by the HKIFF to meet the audience and share his stories behind the scenes. Ricky Lee's speech is as follows:
Himala was produced and shown in 1982, for a budget of three million pesos. It was shot in two and a half months in Ilocos Norte. All throughout the shooting, Ishmael Bernal was always saying that he wanted the truth. He wanted it to be minimalist. Remove all clutter, go to the heart of the matter, he would say. He reprimanded his cameraman when the latter started moving his camera around. Don't let the camera tell the story, he said. Let the story just unfold.
He did not want any of the actors wearing makeup, and once he reprimanded the actress playing Sepa for putting on baby powder. He did not want any prosthetics, except for one sick character in a scene. For the hundreds of sick people who wanted to be cured by Elsa in the film, he wanted real sick people. Even the actor playing Lolo Hugo was really blind.
The Department of Social Welfare brought in hundreds of sick people. They fell in line. Bernal disapproved those who did not look sick enough. Sorry, the assistant director would tell those who were rejected, your ailment is only asthma, or cirrhosis.
In seeking for the truth, Bernal always explored the complex and multi-faceted realities of society and the Filipino soul. He wanted to dissect the intersections of the social and the philosophical with the personal. And he always tried to go beyond the formula, even in his most conventional films. In Himala, he wanted to portray the social realities of fanaticism, corruption, and poverty. He wanted to show how blind adulation for a person in power, like Elsa, could lead to disastrous and tragic results. But he also wanted to go into the philosophical and existential limits of a community in perpetual suffering.
As the scriptwriter of the film, I travelled to the set in Ilocos Norte a number of times. I revised on the set. Bernal was a hardworking director. If he found a scene easy, he would feel uncomfortable. For him nothing good comes easy. So we would go into lengthy discussions on existentialism, minimalism, the truth or untruth of every situation.
Himala starred Nora Aunor, who at the time was like the movie's protagonist, a woman who had a following of millions of fans who would go anywhere with her, heaven or hell.
I think Bernal would agree with me that without Nora Aunor, Himala would not have been the Himala that it is today. As the writer I may have provided the heart, and Bernal the mind, but Nora Aunor provided the soul.
Ricky Lee will meet the audience again at the screenings of the other Bernal’s films.
You are Mine: 4/4(WED) 7:15pm the sky
At the Top: 5/4(THU) 6:45pm the sky