Thursday, December 22, 2011

Daughters of Eve and its Aesthetic Incongruity in Philippine Cinema

2007 DVD cover of Silip by Mondo Macabro
Published in Manila Bulletin (Art and Culture), June 9, 2008

“Deep in my heart I'm concealing things that I'm longing to say. Scared to confess what I'm feeling - frightened you'll slip away.”
~ From the movie Evita

MAN IS INTRINSICALLY inclined to invent his own reality as an indirect way of confronting the unspeakable condition of his life. If he does not invent one, others will create realities for him.

In a post post-modern world of consumerism, technology and mass culture, invented realities can be either cheap or expensive, depending in one’s capability to purchase or acquire them. The promise of youth and beauty, the promise of instant fame and wealth, and the promise for a just society by religious, political and rebel leaders is noting but a commercialized and politicized "hope" to mollify man's repulsive condition.

Most often, in a struggle to survive from an austere condition, man tends to dwell on or believe in lies and fabricated truths rather than facing his concrete reality, which is more dreadful and humiliating. But, occasionally, man must come to terms and embrace the frightening realities of his existence as precondition of his freedom to live.


Elwood Perez, the FAMAS Award for Best Director in 1989
An award-winning Filipino filmmaker, Elwood Perez, created both delusional and repugnant realities in his 1986 movie “Daughters of Eve,” originally titled “Silip,” a film laden with grotesque cinematic images.

Never had such realities been portrayed in a nauseating, savage, and hauntingly realistic manner, dissecting the human psyche and primordial issues on lust and desire, needs and repression, hatred and violence, religious belief and superstition, life and death.

The film simulated a dark and anarchic world, reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedies in the 16th century, or the Nagisa Ōshima’s 1976 film “Ai no korīda” (In the Realm of the Senses), based on a true story of deviant sex obsession circa 1930 in Japan, sans the graphic portrayal of murders and gang rape of “Daughters of Eve”.

Distinct from his conventional movies that centered on convoluted plots like “Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M,” (1991) “Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit,” (1989) and “Disgrasyada,” (1979) to name a few, “Daughters of Eve” is a character-driven film with complex ensemble of anti-heroes.

Perez, as an eccentric filmmaker, created, from the auteur’s point of view, monsters out of his characters, brought them together in a grisly-designed stage of stark reality and, like a Greek god, indulged himself at their scuffles against the atrocities of their  fragmented world.


The Slaughter of Animal on Sand Dune: The film opens with Simon (Mark Joseph) mercilessly hammering the head of carabao (water buffalo). The children, ranging from seven to fourteen years old, are crying and protesting for him not to kill the animal. (The carabao was, in real life, slaughtered to death). One of the children, a 13-year old girl Pia, had her first menstruation at the scene: red blood dripping between her thighs.

Still photo of Silip, Mark Joseph and Maria Isabel Lopez
Gratuitous and Salacious Sex Scenes: A 14-year old boy, Tiago, is peeping through the slits of nipa where the naked Tonya (Maria Isabel Lopez) is bathing and casting away her lust for Simon. At another scene, the same boy witnesses his mother, Mona (Myra Manibog), making love to her lover (Simon) in open air in broad daylight.

Selda (Sarsi Emmanuelle), a liberated young woman and teenage friend and rival of Tonya for Simon’s love and attention, sneaks out every night into a hut provided by the villagers for her vacationing American boyfriend. They make love while Tonya, a catechism teacher in the village, secretly watches them through the holes of the nipa.

Religiosity and Occultism: Tonya, torn between her lustful desire for Simon and her religious belief, purges herself with bizarre practices. The more she prays to God, the more obsessive she becomes with Simon to the extent of rubbing her vagina with sand and salt to repress her sexual desire.

She teaches the girls that men who have large penises are devils and should be avoided. Her deviant behaviors and excessive religiosity have created a dangerous cultic belief, imbibing the children with false teachings.

Escaping from the irate villagers due to her bizarre cultic practices that involve the children, Tonya seeks the help of Simon. This results in a wild sexual encounter on top of the sand dune. Pia, the 13-year old catechism student of Tonya, silently witnesses the couple’s activity; she bursts out, venting her anger on Tonya for letting her believe that Simon is the devil. Tonya hurriedly leaves, leaving the naked Simon and Pia in an uncomfortable situation.

This time, Pia slowly advances her steps toward Simon and, in a naïve and awkward manner, touches his dangling penis. But the latter pushes her away toward the slope; she hits her head on the rock and instantly dies. Simon, petrified with disbelief, carries the body of Pia toward the seashore.

The Murder of Simon: When the children suspect that Simon killed Pia, they cunningly plan their revenge. Headed by 14-year old Tiago, who was earlier angry with Simon for hurting his mother, the children take turns by stabbing Simon’s back with a knife. Finally, Tiago cuts off the head of the lifeless Simon with an axe and brings it to his horrified mother, Mona.

Still photo of Silip, Ma. Isabel Lopez and Sarsi Emmanuel
Gang Rape and the Burning of Two Women: Always envious and jealous on the two women, Mona spreads the news that it was Tonya and Selda who killed Pia and Simon. The villagers become incensed, as they desperately search for their whereabouts.

Finally, they catch Tonya and Selda and tie them naked inside a nipa hut. In the meantime, while the villagers are still deciding what punishment that they will inflict on the two women, some men sneak into the hut and begin to rape the naked Tonya and Selda.

After the gang rape, the villagers throw their torches into the nipa hut. Inside, the two women are crying in terrible pain until their voices slowly vanish amid the blazing inferno.


Still photo of Silip (Daughters of Eve)
Created in 1985, during the advent of anarchy against the oppressive political system, “Daughters of Eve” is the remaining film of ECP or Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in the 1980s.

In 1986, at the height of People Power Revolution that resulted in the downfall of Marcos regime, the film was shown at the select Philippine theaters. But the historic political event obscured the powerful presence of the film; it slipped unnoticed from the prying eyes of critics and morally upright religious groups.

Later that year, however, the film created uproar at the Chicago International Film Festival because of its macabre and revolting images. And, then, it slowly fell silent for several years, but its silence was about to explode like a time bomb.

Two decades later, the film would resurface when it became part of the 2005 film series on Television aired by BBC in London, based on a documentary by British author and film critic, Pete Tombs, on the "Wildest Cinemas in the World." So that by 2007, the film returned as if with a vengeance in a high definition DVD form, distributed under a British film company Mondo Macabro.

Prior to its 2007 release in DVD, “Daughters of Eve,” within the span of two decades, was given several titles in several countries, dubbed in different languages, and circulated underground in the Middle East, Europe, US, Latin America, and some parts of Asia. Never before that had a film, by a Filipino filmmaker, stirred worldwide interest and attention with mixed critical reviews 22 years later.

Today, the film has been eyed for viewing in a wide screen in Africa and Paris. Ironically, the film will remain elusive at the local Philippine theaters because it is still ahead of its time, needless to mention the religio-cultural sensitivity and conservative consciousness of the Filipino people.


Filmmaker Elwood Perez
The film and its characters, with ambiguous beginning and ending, is the antithesis of all the Hollywood-like romantic and tragic stories in the Philippine cinema. Its fragile characters are left wallowing within the mire of conflicts with no redeeming value or meaning toward the end, but a mere presentation of good and evil.

As told in a linear narrative, traditional salt makers populate a small nomadic village, set against the backdrop of surreal landscape: bare mountains, sand dunes, blue sky and undulating horizon of the sea.

The time and place are blurry; the villagers seem to be rootless as if they had just emerged from out of nowhere and, then, created a story and plots within their characters with no flashbacks whatsoever, as though the filmmaker deliberately let the characters form the cinematic narrative based on the their actions and dialogues.

The plot of the film is dissolved within the characters, the characters are dissolved within the plot, and both elements of filmmaking have become one entity. The time in the movie is inconsequential, a mere device in cinematic motion to signify night and day, morning and afternoon. There is no indication of season or year or epoch.

There is no clear beginning or ending, no gradual build up of the film’s perspective, but purely theatrical scuffles of the characters to resolve the conflict within the cinematic plots. Whether the characters resolve the conflict or not the film is already a completed work of art from the auteur’s point of view.

A convergence of Filipino taboos and shocking images, “Daughters of Eve” is a crossover between film noir and baroque cinemas. It explores the darkest recesses of human psyche and primeval instinct within the repugnant human condition. It uses a natural backdrop (carabao or water buffalo, sand dunes, the sea and blue sky) as a setting to superimpose the gravity of feelings, emotions, and cinematic images.

The resultant mise-en-scène is uniquely Perezian: morbid, dark and haunting, capturing the essence and timelessness of the film, literally or figuratively.

© Danny Castillones Sillada 

Filmmaker Elwood Perez, the author (Danny Castillones Sillada), 
American lawyer Paula Brillson, and surgeon Dr. Tito Garcia
(during the author's 2005 one-man art exhibit at The Podium, Philippines)

*How to cite this article:

Sillada, Danny Castillones. “Daughters of Eve and its Aesthetic Incongruity in Philippine Cinema.” Manila Bulletin (Art and Culture) 9 June 2008: F 1-2. Print.

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