Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (literally, the moon is mad for the night is too long) is one of the latest products of ABS-CBN’s rather important project of restoring old Filipino films. The 1983 movie by Danny Zialcita was digitally scanned, restored and remastered, and the result is a quality picture, now prepared to entertain a contemporary audience.
The fact of restoration provokes us to think of the film in two ways: on its own, as an isolated film product; or with regards to its age, as it is now effectively a historical record.
Entertaining, if questionable
Note: this section shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.
The most salient feature of Nagalit Ang Buwan is its overflowing plot. It is not necessarily a surplus of plot, because the length of the story and the degree of convolution is justified in the end. But the story, in its totality, is nevertheless too lengthy, perhaps demanding a little more than the average moviegoer’s endurance.
Fortunately, the movie is funny. A representative from the ABS-CBN restoration team remarked before the screening that this film will certainly be enjoyed by those who love memes. Indeed, Nagalit Ang Buwan is packed with so much wit and biting dialogue, that if social media had only existed in the 1980s, numerous lines from it would have doubtless gone viral.
Much of the humor of these meme-quality lines come from the melodramatic delivery by the actors. The audience during the restoration’s premiere laughed so often for the film’s duration that it begged the question: was the overly-dramatic speech really meant to be humorous, or is this the effect of age on a movie, that is out of sync with modern drama sensibilities? In other words, were these lines actually meant to be affecting rather than funny, and that the contemporary audience is (tragic-comically?) perceiving a different tone? (Danny Zialcita is no longer around to answer this for us, but the original audiences, as well as the actors, can still enlighten us on this matter.)
At the heart of Nagalit Ang Buwan‘s plot is a chain of adulteries. (A meme-worthy dialogue example: when Miguel (Dindo Fernando) confessed his infidelity to his wife Delza (Laurice Guillen), she was quick to understand what he was telling her, and she asks if what he wants is “adultery with consent”.) This makes the film a plump target for feminist readings. When the first adultery, the precipitating conflict if you will, comes courtesy of Stella (Gloria Diaz), she is provided a significant motivation: she discovers that her respected husband Dimitri (Eddie Garcia) is a closet homosexual. (Even the Catholic Church would likely approve this as a valid ground for annulment, and grant the woman freedom to find another lover.) Stella then meets Miguel, and of course they satisfy their desires in a bizarre but entertaining sequence involving frolicking at the beach, and horseback riding through a forest. Miguel, is then revealed to be already a family man—but there is nothing lacking with his family. He simply cheats on his wife, because he can. Because “dumadating talaga ito sa buhay ng lalaki,” (“this is inevitable in a man’s life”) as he says. It is enough to make gender activists take up arms.
At least, the plot offers a few well-engineered ironies. Dimitri, the soft, ‘silahis’, comedic character from the first act, turns violent and becomes the messenger of tragedy at the climax. Delza, who for most of the film was framed as the victim of the tale, turns out to be another past offender herself. Her righteous family was built upon a foundation of deception.
Nagalit Ang Buwan is preoccupied with its story, and rarely pauses to provide the audience with visual treats. One of the exceptions is when Delza sits silent in the dark living room of her home; the lack of light matches her gloomy frame of mind, and her position in her seat proclaims her coming decision to finally turn away Miguel and take full control of the household herself.
There is also a pattern with the children, Jenny (Janice de Belen), Joseph (Alvin Enriquez), and Tony (Tommy Alvarado), who we first see in a bright area, an open park. We also see them on a sunny boat early on. But as the film progresses, they occupy darker and darker, and more closed spaces—reflecting the manner in which the children’s lives are gradually pulled into the drama and tragedy of the adults. This ties into the ‘night’ in the title of the film; indeed the film opens with a night scene of merrymaking, and closes with a darker night, one of mourning.
Three decades later
Old films can show us how far we have come; if not as a society, then at least as a film-producing culture. Although, equally often, these historical works reveal precisely how much we have stayed the same.
For one, Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi would sit comfortably in the contemporary pipeline of mainstream pictures. Its premise remains a cash cow of Filipino cinema today: a story mocked these days as ‘kabit-kabit’ and ‘third party-third party’, the same old drama of infidelity.
Even the characters are of the same profile as the ones that populate 2016’s romance-dramas: upper-class, dwelling in fine houses, and fluent in English. These are the stories of men of leisure, and ladies who lunch; those who have so much time in their hands, with more than enough room in their lives for romantic discontent. If we are to continue seeing this kind of story, how about populating them with average Filipinos, in the name of innovation? Infidelity is not just a hobby of the economically secure, after all.
But, while watching Nagalit Ang Buwan, we are never short of reminders that what we are seeing is an old film. Part of the pleasure of seeing restored films is the novelty of seeing antiquities. In the film, among other things, we see old business slide shows (with literal picture slide projectors, not PowerPoint); a glimpse of traffic-free roads and a sparse skyline in Makati City; and a phonebooth in an upper-class home. That last item participates in the plot device of family members eavesdropping on each other’s private calls—a narrative element once popular with telenovelas and drama films, but has since become passé with the advent of cellular phones.
There are even product placements, most noticeably by Coca-Cola. Again, another sign that a few bad habits in Filipino filmmaking have been around for some time now.
Perhaps the clearest and most controversial marker of the film’s age, however, is a line spoken by Janice de Belen’s character, one that elicited gasps in the cinema. Confronting her mother whom she suspects to have consented to a dalliance, she cries that she cannot believe that it is her mother who is being unfaithful, and that she would have understood if it was instead her father who had a mistress, “kasi lalaki siya” (“because he’s a man”). Was this in fact the social norm in the 1980s, as understood by teenagers, that infidelity by men is an acceptable fact of life, while adultery by women is heinous? Such a suggestion would not fly in 2016 without uproar. Or, again, was the film simply being provocative with this dialogue? Did it intentionally speak this words through the young Jenny to shock its original audience and spark debate?
Questions like these—it is part of the reason why the restoration of old films like Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi is important and necessary. It is not just the universally-acclaimed canon of Filipino cinema, the Brockas and the Bernals and the de Leons, which deserve a new life with contemporary audiences. If we want films to stir debate and reflection for society, then we need to preserve a balanced selection of them, both the sober and serious, as well as the entertaining if somewhat controversial.
The film stills used in this article were screen-captured from ABS-CBN Film Restoration’s trailer, published at youtube.com/watch?v=wLD6Rtq_SkM.