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‘Tatlong Taon’: Impressive Drama (A Review of ‘Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos’)

Pio de Castro III The Times Journal, 1976

After an extremely self-conscious first directorial attempt in “Mortal,” marked by a
shallow mish-mash of dated Freudian concepts, cheap and gaudy costumes and sets, and a
too-literal representation of fevered images in a mentally-disturbed personality, Mario
O’Hara, prize winning scriptwriter and actor, has regained both the bright promise
expected of him as a director and scriptwriter in an impressive production of “Tatlong
Taong Walang Diyos.”

The film starts with a shot of Adolf Hitler himself exhorting his countrymen to glory
under the banner of war and one immediately feels deep inside one’s guts that “Tatlong
Taong Walang Diyos” is not just another Tagalog movie. The use of World War II
documentary footage including the bombing of Pearl Harbor unmistakably sets the right
milieu for the film and the viewer is reluctantly seduced into a remembrance of a past era.

The film recounts the story of Rosario (Nora Aunor), a schoolteacher in a small town
in Laguna, whose heart is torn between her romantic love for Crispin (Rafael Roco, Jr.), a
guerilla who survived Bataan and the Death March, and her realistic love for Masugi
(Christopher de Leon), a dashingly handsome Japanese officer born in Manila of a Filipino
mother. It is a touching story of private people thrown into unimagined stress during
turbulent times of Japanese Occupation. A time when man, woman and child doubted the
existence of God because they saw with their own eyes man’s inhumanity to man. It was
an era that marked the Filipino’s loss of innocence. It was an era that started rampant
corruption, smuggling, arson, robbery, rape and murder. The Filipino way of life was
never quite the same again. It was the end of “peace time.”

“Tatlong Taon” marks Christopher de Leon’s return to legitimate acting but his
irrepressible boyish charm works against the role. The character of Masugi is robbed of
weight, power, sexual menace and intensity. Rafael Roco, Jr.’s performance lacks variety
from his previous roles and it is only his strong personal charisma which saves him from
being dull. Unfortunately, the two young men in the cast are made to look like boys when
confronted by pain, anguish and sorrow communicated by the acting of Nora Aunor.
There are lapses in acting intensities which produce flat passages in the film. Rafael Roco
Jr.’s breakdown lacks directorial build-up while Nora Aunor’s fury as she greets Masugi
who come courting after violating her, looks pale and inadequate. Another flat passage
lacking credibility is the ideological debate between Crispin and Masugi, where they sound
like two stage actors reading lines to each other.

People who used to smile and wink when they talk of Nora Aunor as an actress should
see this film, because the lady is determined to show everybody that she means business
both as an actress and as a producer. In this film she is successful as both.

Like “Mortal”, “Tatlong Taon” shows the brilliant cinematography of Conrado
Baltazar, the undisputed maestro who is an invaluable aid to any budding director. In
“Mortal,” Mario O’Hara exhibited his appreciation of editing techniques but in this film his
camerawork lacks fluidity and movement. And the geography of his editing is at times
disconcerting because he uses a cut-to-cut technique in the introduction of a scene before
orienting the audience with a character blocking which he only reveals later in a master

The strong realistic drive of this film is weakened in the second half when Mario
O’Hara stages theatrical “moments,” like Rosario burning Masugi under a pile of coconut
husks. I don’t think it’s possible to cremate a man with just a pile of coconut husks. It
would have been more realistic to have placed Masugi in the nipa hut and burned it.
Another theatrical touch is the costuming of all the townswomen in black like the Greek
chorus in “Phaedra.” Plus the utterly theatrical blocking of the women unnaturally circling
Rosario as they crop her hair, with the cameras directly overhead recording the snipping
whorl. This is where the film becomes false and unreal. This scene of vengeance should
have been shot with the women attacking Rosario like the marauding crows in
Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” The director also failed to provide good objective correlatives
for Rosario’s rape, Francis’ (Peque Gallaga playing the Spanish doctor in love with
Masugi) death and desertion, and Rosario’s execution.

In the end, Mario O’Hara symbolizes man’s fate as helpless creature buffeted by the
winds of adversity but still turning to God by a blind man who lights a candle as a
procession enters the church to mark the return of normalcy. The tragic fate of Rosario,
Crispin and Masugi goes against the grain if traditional “cine Pilipino” which insists on a
happy ending. And for this we must thank conscientious craftsmen like Mario O’Hara and
Nora Aunor for their concerted effort. “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” is without doubt
one of the best films of 1976.

sent to us by Ron
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos
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