Movie Review: Newly-restored 'Himala' is phenomenal

When it comes to career-defining roles, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Nora Aunor’s faith healer Elsa in Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala”.

Screened last week to a star-studded audience as part of the Cinema One Originals film festival, “Himala” has been restored-–just in time for its 30th anniversary–-by Central Digital Lab in cooperation with the ABS-CBN Film Archive’s initiative to preserve its over-3000-title library.

While the restoration isn’t quite as visually revelatory as Central Digital’s previously-released effort, Peque Gallaga’s “Oro, Plata, Mata”, with persistent grain (in addition to that inherent to the film stock), inconsistent colors and dirt present throughout, make no mistake, this version is leaps and bounds above any of the prints seen back

in 1982.

Gone are the multiple subtitles that framed the poorly pan-and-scanned versions audiences have grown, often unwillingly, accustomed to via regular TV screenings. In their place is a slightly blurred set of burned-in English subs that went out with the original international festival release. Ready for new audiences. An original still of the iconic prayer scene (left), and the restored version (right).

On a more positive note, also missing here (thanks to the frame-by-frame cleanup) are most of the more-obvious scratches that used to mar Sergio Lobo’s skillful cinematography.

Penned by screenwriting icon Ricky Lee, and based partially on a true story, “Himala” tells the tale of Elsa, a simple girl from the village of Cupang. As the film opens, a solar eclipse has plunged the village and its surrounding areas into temporary darkness.

It is in the darkness-–on the village outskirts where Elsa’s adopted mother (Vangie Labalan) first found her as a baby-–that the young girl has a vision of the Virgin Mary, the first of many.

Facing initial skepticism and, in some cases, scorn, from the village elders-–including the parish priest (Joel Lamangan, doing triple duty on top of his roles as casting and crowd director)-–Elsa sticks to her story. As the days mount, with more and more villagers start believing the girl’s tale, it becomes something of an event to join Elsa in her now-daily pilgrimages to the apparition site.

A turning point is reached when Elsa begins exhibiting stigmata and miraculous healing powers. Quick to capitalize-–at first, figuratively, later, literally-–on Elsa’s new found abilities is Mrs. Alba (Veronica Palileo), who organizes healing and prayer sessions. Before long, the sessions are the center of the village’s entire economy, as thousands come from far and wide to experience Elsa’s miracles.

Before long, temptation and vice-–initially characterized by former bar girl Nimia (Gigi Dueñas) and mentions of (ostensibly) far away Manila-–rear their insatiable heads as enterprise-minded villagers conjure ways to part the multitude of visitors from their money. While the crowds around Elsa increase, previously unheard-of incidents of alcoholism, prostitution, gambling, rape–even murder–effectively turn the formerly sleepy town upside down.

Along for the ride is documentary filmmaker Orly (Spanky Manikan), who seeks to make a name for himself with footage of Elsa’s miracles. As an outsider who arrives in Cupang for the express purpose of exploitation, it is one of the story’s many ironies that he–-as opposed to one of Elsa’s Seven (self-proclaimed) Apostles, much less any of the townspeople-–who emerges changed for the better by his encounters with the faith healer.

The final scene, which has been referenced, emulated and parodied ad nauseam, has lost none of its potency, none of its power to move. Regardless of how many times we’ve seen or heard it before, the moment Aunor launches into what has become her signature speech, the goose bumps are no less genuine than they must have been 30 years ago.

It is here more than in any other sequence that Bernal’s direction, Lee’s words, Lamangan’s crowd direction and Aunor’s skill as a performer come together to create nothing less than Philippine cinematic nirvana.

As a pitch-black satire of herd mentality by way of blind faith, the messages and themes on display in “Himala” are as relevant today as they've ever been, only with celebrities, politicians and mass consumerism in the place of faith healers and soothsayers.

The film’s final shots drive home the cyclical nature of the herd, willfully foregoing common sense and rationality in favor of blissful self-delusion.

Think about it: We never actually see anyone cured by Elsa’s miracles.

The cults of celebrity that have sprung up around superstars, megastars and stars for all seasons are all representative of the mindset that leads to Elsa’s ultimate fate. By clothing their tale in the finery of mass entertainment, Bernal and his team created the ultimate irreverent work, setting the standard by which anyone claiming to be subversive must be judged.

As far as popular thinking goes, precious little has changed since “Himala” was made. In this regard, time has been kind to the tale of Elsa, and now, thanks to the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project, the faithful will be able to pay homage to this miracle for decades to come.--KDM, GMA News

Select screenings of `Himala' can be viewed at SM North, SM Megamall, SM Manila, SM Southmall, Powerplant, Market Market, Trinoma, Glorietta 4 and Robinsons Galleria, SM Cebu, SM Davao and Gaisano Mall Davao. All photos courtesy of CInema One.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel
    Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel

    The $150,000 pearl-studded, custom-made Calvin Klein dress worn by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o at this year's Academy Awards has been stolen, police said on Thursday. The gown, embellished with 6,000 natural white pearls, was stolen from Nyong'o's room at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, during the day on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood said. "Ms Nyong'o was not in the room at the time of the theft," Deputy John Mitchell …

  • South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar
    South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar

    South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a controversial adultery law which for more than 60 years had criminalised extra-marital sex and jailed violators for up to two years. The decision saw shares in the South Korean firm Unidus Corp., one of the world's largest condom manufacturers, soar by the daily limit of 15 percent on the local stock exchange. "Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," said …

  • U.S. flies most advanced surveillance plane from Philippines

    By Manuel Mogato MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has begun flying its most advanced surveillance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, out of the Philippines for patrols over the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday, acknowledging the flights for the first time. The United States, the Philippines' oldest and closest ally, has promised to share "real time" information on what is happening in Philippine waters as China steps up its activities in the South China Sea. China claims most of …

  • US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians
    US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians

    The US-led coalition has carried out air strikes against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, where the jihadists have launched a new offensive and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians. The raids on Thursday struck areas around the town of Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving information on possible casualties. The town remains under the control of Kurdish forces, but at least 10 surrounding villages have been seized by IS, along …

  • National Geographic 'Afghan girl' in Pakistan papers probe
    National Geographic 'Afghan girl' in Pakistan papers probe

    Pakistani officials are investigating after the famous green-eyed "Afghan girl" immortalised in a 1985 National Geographic magazine cover was found living in the country on fraudulent identity papers. The haunting image of the then 12-year-old Sharbat Gula, taken in a refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry, became the most famous cover image in the magazine's history. Now Pakistani officials say that Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in the northwestern city of Peshawar in April …

  • ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’
    ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’

    Supt. Raymund Train, who led the SAF team that killed Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, recounted in a sworn statement the meeting he and senior SAF officers had with Aquino in Malacañang on Nov. 30. Train said among the senior officers who attended the meeting were then PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas, SAF deputy commander Chief Supt. Noli Taliño and intelligence group chief Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez. …

  • Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts
    Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts

    BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants seized more Christians from their homes in northeastern Syria in the past three days, bringing the total number abducted by the extremist group to over 220, activists said Thursday. …

  • IS executioner 'Jihadi John' named as London graduate
    IS executioner 'Jihadi John' named as London graduate

    "Jihadi John", the masked Islamic State group militant believed responsible for beheading of at least five Western hostages, has been named as Kuwaiti-born computing graduate Mohammed Emwazi from London. "Jihadi John", nicknamed after Beatle John Lennon due to his British accent, is believed to be responsible for the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options