26 May 2001 | toclement
An emotional and moral powerhouse
Mario O'Hara is one of the best-kept secrets in cinema. From the Philippines, he has made a quiet reputation of making some of the most bitingly poignant social commentary films over the last few decades. Starting as an actor, this film predates his directorial debut, but marks his first film as a screen-writer. He is also one of the stars of the film.
The film is set in a relatively small Philipino village, where Catholicism rules. The film, as the title suggests, explicitly plays up on the Christian adage that one should not judge one's neighbor, but makes the somewhat obvious case that human beings, however pious they might claim to be, rarely follow that advice.
The story essentially follows three main characters: Kuala (who plays the town "nut", essentially a homeless woman who seemingly suffers from schizophrenia, psychosis or some other mental illness - it's only as the story unravels that we are made to understand her situation more clearly), Bertong (the town leper who has been fully marginalized by the village - this is the role played by Mario O'Hara), and Junior (an adolescent and son of a prominent family in the village).
In a way Junior, played by a young Christopher De Leon (who apparently has gone on to become a huge TV star as an adult in the Philippines) is the star of the show. He is at the center of the story, a witness to the sickness of the so-called normal society he is a part of: his boorish father proudly cheats on his mother, his materialistic mother screams incessantly, his immature friends play pranks on Kuala, his fickle girlfriends drop him without explanation...
Increasingly feeling an exile from his own society he seeks refuge and identification with the marginalized characters. Junior defies orders to stay away from the town kook and leper. But in the end he finds himself helpless to affect inevitable events.
This film is an emotionally-charged and stinging commentary on the evils of humanity, the kind of humanity that each and every one of us are capable of, or at the very least, we turn our heads and ignore, preferring not to think of such unpleasantries. The three lead actors playing Kuala, Berton, and Junior are excellent and the supporting cast keeps up with them at every step. It's also worth noting the beautiful direction provided by Lino Brocka.
This obscure film is an undiscovered classic and if you ever are given the opportunity to see it, take advantage of it.