Insiang, the Best Socially Conscious 1970s Filipino Melodrama You’ve Never Seen (Presumably), at MoMA


Insiang (1976)
Directed by Lino Brocka
October 28-November 3 at MoMA

Lino Brocka filmed from the vantage points of oppressed people. The Filipino director made three great melodramas about them in quick succession in the mid-1970s, beginning with Weighed But Found Wanting (1974), a record of a kinship between three lonesome figures on the outskirts of a judgmental small town. Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) follows an impoverished young man new to the city who takes on soul-sucking jobs in search of his sequestered beloved, and Insiang (1976) shows a teenage Manila slum resident attempting to change her fate from victim of circumstances to aggressor.

Insiang’s poor box office performance led to the shuttering of Brocka’s company CineManila Corporation. But the film was also the first Filipino work to screen at Cannes, and today it is often considered to be the best among the more than sixty films that Brocka ultimately made. A new DCP restoration of Insiang will now have a weeklong theatrical run at MoMA in prelude to the Museum’s annual festival of restored films, To Save and Project.

This run follows one given by MoMA in 2013 to the similarly restored Manila. Like its predecessor, Insiang shows beauty living under daily threat. The film begins with pigs crying out in a slaughterhouse before being offed by the butcher Dado (played by Ruel Vernal), and soon afterwards shows the young title character (Hilda Koronel) walking through crowded streets. She does her best to stand upright beneath the burden of chores done for her demanding mother while Dado, hiding nearby, sizes her up as his next catch.

A triangle forms between Insiang, who lives in a small home with her mother following the family patriarch’s abandonment of them; the much older, embittered Tonya (Mona Lisa), who blames daughter Insiang for everything in the wake of his departure; and Dado, who charms his way into the parent’s bed with eyes fixed upon the child. He gets what he wants and Tonya opts to live in denial, after which gossip spreads, building window bars grow in stature, and Insiang finds herself isolated in suffering. Trial and error, though, eventually teach the girl how to break free of her spiritual jailers. In a society that does nothing to help her, revenge becomes her way to help herself.


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