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REVIEW: Bulaklak sa City Jail

Mario E. Bautista, The Philippines Daily Express, 1984

BULAKLAK SA CITY JAIL

We were enthralled by the opening scene of “Bulaklak sa City
Jail.” As the title credits are flashed on screen, Nora Aunor is shown
singing in front of an unattentive beeerhouse crowd. We can see her
giving a spirited rendition of the song but we only see the eyes, or lips
or hands of those around her, except for Ricky Davao, to whom Nora
is obviously addressing her song. In the next scene, we see her
entering the city jail.

Nora is Angela, an orphan who falls for a married man and is later
accused of trying to kill his wife. But the film is more than just her
story. It is an indictment of a prison system that instead of helping in
the rehabilitation of inmates only make them worse. Angela meets
several other characters. Juliet (Gina Alajar) is a young mother
imprisoned for estafa and whose only dream is to escape and get her
son now being maltreated by her husband’s mistress. Viring (Perla
Bautista) loses her sanity when her daughter (the product of a liaison
with a prison guard) is forcibly taken away from her. Yolly (Shyr
Valdez) is a teenager committed by her own mother for delinquency.
Patricia (Maritess Gutierrez) is a student arrested for the accidental
death of a colleague in their sorority’s initiation rites. Then there’s
Barbie (Maya Valdez), the bastonera, and Tonya (Zeneida Amador),
the mayora.

Some quarters are bound to complain because of the film’s
exposes. Prison guards take advantage of the inmates. Ex-officio
lawyers assigned to help them for free do not really care even if they
rot in jail. Inmates prey on one another, specially on newcomers whom
the more hardened ones rob and mandhandle when they get it.

“Bulaklak” is a combination of the artistic and the commercial. The
very valid theme is spiced up with scenes aimed to make the audience
sit up and notice, like Juliet seducing her guard and leaving him
handcuffed on the bed inside a mausoleum or Angela giving birth at
the Manila Zoo. This last-mentioned scene is very theatrical move on
the part of Director Mario O’Hara, who is very fond of such staginess.
It would be quite unbelievable for the police to waste so much time
and effort in pinning down a minor criminal like Angela, but such a
scene would be nice and would no doubt make the audience (and the
judges, too) notice Nora’s acting, specially after she gives birth and
implores the police to help them so her baby would not die. If the
cinematography of this film were given more careful attention it would
have been more outstanding in its totality. As it is, several scenes are
so ill-lighted they give you eyes-strain.

But the acting cannot be faulted. Nora Aunor gives a very moving
performance, notwithstanding that zoo childbirth scene specially
engineered to endear her to her fans. Formidable support is given by
Gina Alajar, Maya Valdes, Perla Bautista, Celia Rodriguez (as a
mother who prostitutes herself to male inmates just to earn money she
could send to her son who later also ends up in prison), and Marites
Gutierrez (truly a revelation, specially in that crying scene with her real
life mom, Gloria Romero).

Lualhati Bautista has written a difficult script with a lot of
characters in it and she succeeds quite well. The commercial
elements are carefully integrated (like Nora getting back at Maya with
a piece of wood after the death of Maritess, and Perla stabbing the
guard who has been oppressing them). Mario O’Hara’s work here is
also better than in “Condemned.” “Bulaklak” got a B rating while
“Condemned” got an A rating. We believe it should have been the
other way around.

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