Review of Lauriana (Mel Chionglo, 2013)
JPaul S. Manzanilla
Lauriana hitches us into a world where a man’s “love” is the supreme arbiter of a woman’s fate. Samuel is a member of the Philippine Constabulary who fell in love with Lauriana, a barrio dancer. He made her his common law-wife and, along with the boy Carding whom he got fond of, formed a semblance of a family. Soon enough, Lauriana and Carding experience the cruelty of Samuel, as the soldier tellingly surnamed Corazon became obsessed with the woman and beats her whenever he suspects that she’s having dalliances with other men. Lauriana tries to understand him, having learned of Samuel’s painful past—of a father who abused his adulterous mother, committed suicide, which then led his mother to take her own life as well.
The film successfully recreates the physical setting of its true-to-life subject, the postwar Huk-populated province of Quezon. What in fact brought the three characters together is Samuel’s task to track and arrest rebels, which brought him to the town where he met Lauriana, and got him close to Carding who is fascinated with the action-filled life of an army man. Carding’s eye is central to the apprehension of the sexual as the man he idolizes and the woman he adores become entangled in a violent cycle of libidinal and temporal investment and release we are wont to witness. Yet lumping together the traumas of insurgency and adultery (the first one of Samuel’s mother presumably true, the second one of Lauriana patently false) becomes untenable as the sins of the past and of the human are displaced to an elsewhere that is difficult to retrieve. Memory becomes an arena of struggle in this regard and it falls prey to the ravages of personhood. So when we are transported to the 1970s of the adult Carding – renamed Ric – equally tormented by memories of Samuel’s brutality as the latter was pained by his father’s sin, the trauma goes on and on. And so we need to go back in order to heal the primal wound that hurts not only the person but his society as well.
Having to live with this trauma has become the life not only of Samuel but also Carding and Lauriana. It has become insufferable not only for the characters but for the viewers as well. Sometimes the camera is limpid in catching tender moments, drawing us into the private world of two lovers and a child defying matrimony. Equally, it razes our affections because such moments develop into brutal ones that exceed our capacity to understand and forgive. Where does the fault lie? A traumatized man coupled by a “loose” woman and joined by an orphaned child is an arrangement for a tragedy.
The question of the two revolutions, postwar Huk and 70s communism, is never addressed. They are simply used as backdrop in the film that it has become simplistic to assume that Samuel’s brutality is brought about by his serving in the army and that being a soldier provides one a venue to release one’s aggression. This is dangerous because the political is reduced to the purely personal. No account is given as to why Ric’s cousin has become an activist; he is simply assumed to be a product of his time. The beauty of this argument is that one may substitute soldiers for activists and hence it will be clear that the solution is merely that of arming oneself to the teeth just to be able to vanquish a violent personal history.
When, in the end, Ric is finally able to see Samuel, blind—really, vision denigrated—he could not muster the courage to kill him. And so we are given the fantastic scene of Lauriana, prior to the traumatic events, alluring us. Repression lasts forever.
JPaul S. Manzanilla is engaged in research on the histories of photography, cinema, and television in the country. He studied comparative literature and art history at the University of the Philippines and has taught at the University of the Philippines Manila and Ateneo de Manila University.
Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Pagpag, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Debosyon, and Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.