Torn between loyalty to his striking workmates and the expensive needs of his family, Turing, a printing worker in Manila, is tempted into crime, with disastrous results. Based on two news stories of 1980 and made under the noses of President Marcos’ censors, the film draws on classic Hollywood models of a doomed man driven to crime, but manages to be far more political than most films produced in the Land of the Free.
Philippines 1984, 108 minutes
Turing, a printing worker in Manila, is torn between the demands of work, family, and an unjust society. When his wife, Luz, gets pregnant and has to give up work money is tight; Turing blacklegs during a strike, but changes sides when hired thugs attack his workmates, and loses his job. He’s then persuaded to join a gang planning to rob the factory – with disastrous results.
The downfall of a man tempted into crime has been the subject of many films. In these, although poverty is usually a factor, other motivations, particularly the person’s character, are just as important: the classic story is of the reformed or retired criminal tempted, flattered or pressured into ‘one last job’ (when you hear that you know he’s doomed!). In Bayan Ko the poverty is very real: Turing is already helping to support his mother and sister and must buy medical treatment for Luz and their premature baby. And Turing is certainly not without fault; he’s impulsive, lacks judgement, and the baby’s premature birth happens after he hits Luz when she criticises his disloyalty to the strikers.
The real villain of the piece, however, is the whole political and economic system, which has created a society where the law is firmly on the side of the ‘haves’. The application of market forces to medicine has produced a well-equipped, modern, soulless hospital that shows a profit and which Turing cannot afford; ‘right to work’ laws inhibit even responsible trade unions and make it hard for workers to assert what rights they have. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s meant to. The western world, and particularly the USA, looms darkly in the background: in the name of the Jefferson Printing Press, in the English language as a status symbol, as the source of expensive consumer goods and the place which many Filipinos aspire to. Individualism, a western ‘virtue’, is seen as the cause of Turing’s downfall in a society that doesn’t value its individuals.
Bayan Ko is a story of personal tragedy, a topical thriller and an act of civil disobedience. It had to be smuggled out of the country and its director, Lino Brocka, faces a charge of subversion, which carries the death penalty. Instead of a Hollywood cliché he’s created an overtly political parable; but then, as Andrej Wajda (whose Ashes and Diamonds we are showing soon) said, there are always ways around political censorship but no way to avoid the censorship of money.
Turing: Phillip Salvador
Luz: Gina Alajar
Lando: Raoul Aragonn
Willy: Aristo Reyes Jnr
Director: Lino Brocka
Producer: Vera Belmont
Screenplay: José F. Labaca
Photography: Conrado Baltazar