Kiran Pizarro Mansukhani (The Graduate Center, City University of New York)
As the first Filipino film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Lino Brocka’s Insiang (1976) is considered a seminal work of Filipino cinema. Set in the Manila slum of Tondo during Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law regime, Insiang follows its eponymous protagonist in a revenge plot heavily reminiscent of Euripides’ Elektra. While much has been written on the film as anti-Marcos commentary, there has been minimal discussion of the film as a piece of classical reception within this political commentary. This paper explores the extent to which a work of classical reception like Insiang can be politically subversive. First, it provides a short summary of the film. Though Insiang has been loosely referred to as “Oresteian” (Capino 2020, 72), it is necessary to address how the film is based on Euripides’ Elektra as opposed to Sophocles’. Then, the paper discusses the film’s tragic plot against its political backdrop, Ferdinand Marcos’ Bagong Lipunan (New Society). Marcos’ program placed strict limitations on gender expression and the media (Tolentino 2012, 117) and ramped up the development of Manila region, often attempting to dismantle slums like Tondo (Diaz 2014, 70). While this recontextualization of Euripides’ work may provide evidence for the subversive potential of the classical canon, it is in
deviations from its source text where Insiang expresses its sharpest critiques of the Bagong Lipunan. The Marcos regime was also invested in evoking the classical past through the combined use of censorship and national development of the arts (Marcos 1976, 17), so much so that in Brocka’s films employing Greek tragic arcs, the political commentary is clandestine compared to his later work. When freed from the strict censorship of the Marcos Era, Brocka no longer feels obligated to couch political subversion in Western narrative tropes. This paper concludes with a brief discussion of his most explicitly Leftist film, Orapronobis (1989), made under the succeeding Aquino administration. Here, Brocka portrays with brutal honesty the everyday violence of the provincial Philippines, ending the film not with the exile or death of a
tragic hero, but with the protagonist’s call (a literal phone call) to rejoin the Communist struggle.