‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion

The ‘Cattleya Killer’ thriller is intriguing for Aga Muhlach’s atypical casting, and satisfying for its intelligent writing.

In my recollection of the 1990s, a decade I had the questionable fortune of experiencing as a young kid, Filipino movies were generally of two types. They were either silly comedies that invariably included song-and-dance numbers at the beach, or drama-action flicks that were almost always about crime. The Philippines in the 90s was a society obsessed with crime; it had a dual fascination and dread for the drama and tragedy of heinous violence. Kidnappings and massacres (and frequent brown-outs) filled the news, and filmmakers responded by repackaging these horrifying stories for the silver screen. (Before the decade ended, audience-voters apparently also responded by electing a swashbuckling former movie star into the presidency.)

Sa Aking Mga Kamay (literally: In My Hands), a 1996 Star Cinema picture, fits perfectly into this latter category of my simplistic classification of 1990s Filipino cinema. But what sets it apart—its unique selling proposition—is its featuring of Aga Muhlach “not doing a pretty boy thing,” as a friend put it. Now, Aga Muhlach was quite the household name back then, the actor having enjoyed the status relished these days by, say, Dingdong Dantes. (Although I make such delicate comparisons only approximately, lest some pundits get mad at me). Muhlach was the premier leading man of the time, pairing off with such ladies as Dayanara Torres and Lea Salonga, and therefore to see him play a psychopathic serial killer is a true novelty.

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Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016, Lav Diaz): time and solace and sorrow

Lav Diaz, inspired by Leo Tolstoy, delivers another distinct portrayal of life’s pains and suffering, as well as its quiet joys.

The manipulation of time is the soul of Lav Diaz’s artistry. As many writers have noted, time is Diaz’s instrument of exchange with his audience: the viewers surrender their precious hours for his films, in exchange for glimpses at truths of the world and humanity, and insights into the fabled human condition. It is not merely about the unconventionally epic lengths of his works, which is apparent enough, but also his penchant for protracted, steady gazes. In the spectrum of pacing in cinema, Diaz’s works occupy the extremity opposite the dizzying, rushed rhythm of Hollywood action flicks.

Lav Diaz manipulates time in this manner often to express both solace and sorrow. In Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), this takes particular resonance. It is the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a schoolteacher who is imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Her name itself derives from the Latin hora, signifying hour, or time.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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