The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Sa Kabila ng Lahat (1991)

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At the time of director Lino Brocka's death in May, 1991, "Sa Kabila Ng Lahat," one of his last three movies, was drawing capacity crowds to various Metro Manila theaters. (The two other movies, "Kislap Sa Dilim" and "Makiusap Ka Sa Diyos," was to be shown posthumously several weeks later.) By some ironic twist of fate, the tragic real-life incident, played up relentlessly in national media, boosted the box-office suc¬cess of the movie.

The picture itself acknowledges the utmost importance mass media plays in the peopled everyday lives, especially how they are affected by the problems and gangland type of violence that plague the city.

The story concerns the activities in broadcast journalism and the private liaisons of a popular, beautiful and pragmatic, award-winning TV newscaster and producer of public affairs shows, Maia Robles (Dina Bonnevie), whose career is guided by Mephistophelean pacts.

At first blush, Maia is the admirable crusader who exposes graft and corruption in government and the alarming deterioration of peace and order in the country. But as in real life, almost every media institution has its sacred cows, and Maia has hers. This, her young, idealistic and courageous writer Mike Serrano (Tonton Gutierrez), who is also a radio commentator, finds out bitterly.

One such "cow" is a crooked city mayor, Ventura Velasco (Ronaldo Valdez) who is married to a wealthy, domineering woman Cresencia (Celeste Legaspi). The wife is a reincarnation of such Brocka vixens as Charo Santos in "Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak" and Hilda Koronel in "Babangon Ako't Dudurugin Kita", who would do anything to get what they want. Maia happens to be the mayor's mistress, and it is only a matter of time before their rela-tionship, which is mutually beneficial, is discovered by the avenging wife.

Subplots fill the story, including an event which Maia and Mike cover for their radio-TV programs — the underworld ac-tivities of a Chinese trader named Daniel Fu (William Lorenzo) who has connections with the mayor's chief henchman Boy Boga (Mark Gil).

In the course of the movie, Brocka and writer Roy Iglesias are able to rattle off a litany of social problems, taking care at times to make clear the whereforesof evil ingovern-ment and so-called public service, and the shenanigans of people in power.

If elements in the story recall those in Brocka's earlier pictures like "Miguelito" and "Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak," this may be ex-plained by the director's clever meshing together, in his later period, of social con¬tent, the impact and sensational appeal of violence and newsy scandal, and the "com-mercial" or popular style and structure of melodramas.

Brocka has applied this formula to many of his later films with varying degrees of success. In "Sa Kabila Ng Lahat," he seemed to be concerned with dealing simultaneously with so many social evils, as though time was running out (and in a sense, without his awareness, it was, for him).

Arguably, the movie is a bleak and disturbing mirror of a vital segment of Phil-ippine society: those in media, local govern-ment and the underworld. As in Brocka's "Hahamakin Kita" (1990), the tone is cynical, and there is somethingto deplore about every character's acts and behavior. Almost every character has some nasty quality, too, one being nastier than the other.

Observers of the social life of Philippine elite will not fail to notice the similarities between real-life incidents and the plot twists in the movie. It is a roman a clef, but the characters depicted are more of composites of true-to-life persons, from the media practitioners to the mayor and his wife.

Finally, "Sa Kabila Ng Lahat" yet provides us with another showcase of the director's strenghts: technical mastery of the film medium, expertise in drawing out the best from his actors and smooth and lucid story-telling (which is a tall order here, considering the proliferation of seemingly unrelated incidents and subplots). — Mario A. Hernando, Malaya