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Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting)

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  • noelbotevera
    Tinimbang judged today Noel Vera (Please note: entire plot discussed in close detail) Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974)
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 14, 2002
      "Tinimbang" judged today

      Noel Vera

      (Please note: entire plot discussed in close detail)

      "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting,
      1974) was in many ways a seminal work in contemporary Philippine
      cinema. It was one of the rare quality films of the '70s to enjoy
      commercial success. It announced Lino Brocka, previously known as a
      skillful commercial director, as a major Filipino artist. Few
      realized the significance of this bright new voice, that it would be
      the first of many--Mike de Leon, with "Itim" (Black, 1976); Mario
      O'Hara with "Mortal" (1975); Brocka again, with "Maynila sa Mga Kuko
      ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975), to name a few.
      Contemporary and putative rival Ishmael Bernal had actually debuted
      two years earlier with the masterfully assured "Pagdating sa Dulo"
      (At the Top, 1972), but that film, despite its excellence, made
      little impact on the industry. "Tinimbang" was like a rock flung
      through a plate-glass window; the film was a herald call, officially
      the first in what was to be called the '70s Golden Age of Philippine

      "Tinimbang" tells the story of Junior (Christopher de Leon), son of
      Cesar (Eddie Garcia), the richest man in town. Junior lives a
      relatively happy life; he stays in a huge house, he's popular and
      good-looking, his sweetheart Evangeline (Hilda Koronel) is the
      prettiest girl in school. Then Junior's life unravels: his father
      turns out to be an incurable lecher; his girlfriend is caught with
      another boy and summarily married off; Junior himself is seduced by
      Milagros (Laurice Guillen), the bastard child of the town mayor.
      Junior is driven to find comfort among the town's outcasts--in Kuala,
      a crazed homeless woman, and her lover, Berto the leper. He
      eventually realizes that everyone around him--from the loutish youths
      he calls his friends to the wizened old women he calls his aunts--are
      ignoramuses, hypocrites, spiritual grotesques. The film ends with
      Junior acting out the action described by the film's title--he stares
      at every town folk in the eye, judges them, and finds them all

      It's a dramatic moment, and Brocka invests it with near-Biblical
      significance, as if Junior were some young Christ delivering verdicts
      right and left (it's hardly a coincidence that the title is taken
      from the Old Testament's Book of Daniel). It helps enormously--lends
      the film more heft and substance (not to mention a broader range of
      targets for Junior to glare at)--that Brocka worked on a broad
      canvas, one of the rare if not only moment in his career that he
      would do so. Brocka was essentially telling his life's story,
      drawing from his memories of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, and of the people
      there. Junior WAS Brocka--the sensitive young man, disillusioned
      with the status quo and yearning for something different, something
      more; he was also Milagros, the politician's bastard (Brocka himself
      was the illegitimate child of a political figure). You might say
      that the secret behind Brocka's intensity, behind his close
      identification with the outcast and oppressed, was that he himself
      was an outcast--painful knowledge that would make him more open to
      the plight of others, to fellow outcasts in life.

      This intense identification he felt towards his characters is the
      foremost virtue of his storytelling; at the same time, it was his
      biggest vice. If he had a tendency to like certain characters--to
      get under their skin and look through their eyes--he also had an
      equal tendency to shut others out--to condemn and deny them their
      full measure of understanding.

      You could see this to a certain extent in Brocka's treatment of
      Milagros. Guillen in an interview talked about how she would often
      chafe under Brocka's detailed direction (Brocka in response would
      call her his "Jeanne Moreau"--mysterious and neurotic). Milagros was
      clearly conceived to be a wordly, sensual woman who would initiate
      Junior into the mysteries of sex; Guillen (perhaps rebelling against
      Brocka's rigid direction) adds a hint of empathy, a sense that she's
      a hurt soul reaching out to a fellow hurt soul. It might have been
      more complexity than Brocka bargained for, because after the
      seduction scene Milagros essentially drops out of the picture. And
      you miss her; you want to know what happened to her, how she
      ultimately fared after her one-night stand with Junior.

      An even graver sin is committed against an even more crucial
      character--Cesar, Junior's father. As it turns out, Koala had once
      been one of Cesar's many girlfriends; when she got pregnant Cesar had
      her baby aborted, and the trauma drove her crazy--she's been
      searching for her child ever since. Cesar, interestingly enough, is
      not unaffected by the affair; certain moments, certain movements of
      Koala's remind him of the beautiful girl he once knew. Eddie Garcia
      plays Cesar beautifully, and his could have been a crucial role in
      the film, the correlative to de Leon's Junior--where Junior is a
      young innocent waking up to compassion, Cesar could have been an aged
      hedonist haunted by it, mirror images lit from different angles.

      But no; these flashes of remembrance and regret don't redeem Cesar in
      Brocka's eyes, perhaps because the character is too far from Brocka's
      own to understand, perhaps because he too closely resembles his
      father (he was reportedly a kind man, but Brocka may not have
      forgiven him for dying early). When the time comes, Junior judges
      Cesar as harshly as the rest--even harsher, perhaps, since Cesar had
      earlier warned Junior away from Kuala and Berto, and Junior holds
      this against him. Milagros and to a greater extent Cesar represent a
      wasted potential in Brocka's scheme for "Tinimbang," I think. They
      fall on the borderline that separates those who deserve Brocka's
      condemnation and those who deserve his compassion; they are either
      swept to one side of the border or forgotten, and the film's
      complexity suffers as a result.

      But then Junior's story and climactic act of judgement--to my mind,
      anyway--aren't the film's true point of interest. The character of
      Junior, for one, is hardly original--he joins the protagonist in
      Federico Fellini's "I Vitelloni" and Timothy Bottoms' character in
      Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" as one in a gallery of
      small-town youths who learn about disillusion and heartbreak.
      Unlike the young heroes Fellini's and Bogdanovich's films, Junior is
      something of a self-righteous prig--de Leon plays him as if he's too
      good for the likes of his father and those hypocritical grannies.
      It's a superior stance too easily assumed; you feel he hasn't quite
      earned the right to do so.

      The film's true power comes not from its foreground story but from
      its marginalia, from its deadpan observation of the absurdity of
      everyday small-town life, and from its excellent if flawed sketches
      of Milagros and Cesar. Its power comes most of all from Kuala and
      Berto, the town's most miserable inhabitants, and the intense yet
      simply told story of love found at the bottom of the world. Cesar
      feels unfinished and Junior feels downright thin (the flaw may be in
      the filmmaker's approach than in the performances); Kuala and Berto
      are fully realized characters (does it help that O'Hara, who plays
      Berto, wrote the screenplay based on Brocka's outline?). They are
      Brocka's version of Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not)
      with Kuala as Sisa--remember that "Noli" is about yet another dull
      young man who wakes up to reality, while in the novel's margins dance
      the unforgettable figure of a madwoman in search of her child…

      Lolita Rodriguez, who plays Kuala, captures the smallest, wince-
      inducing detail about homeless lunatics, from scabied scalp to urine-
      stained thighs. O'Hara plays Berto as a man made utterly alone by
      his leprosy, perhaps not a little mad himself--when he first notices
      Kuala, it is with the predatory hunger of someone deprived of sex for
      a long, long time. Rodriguez and O'Hara make the relationship that
      blossoms between them effortless, yet utterly real--Rodriguez as
      Kuala responding to Berto's attentions hungrily, even greedily (the
      way a child would); O'Hara as Berto suddenly finding himself
      functioning as guardian and father as well as lover. The couple are
      the most successful evocation of love in any of Brocka's films, I
      think, and by far the most moving. A great film, possibly Brocka's
      best except for one other--but that's the basis of yet another

      (The film can be seen on the Cinema One Channel, in Sky or Home Cable)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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