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Friday, 20 May 2016

Sydney Film Festival (4) - Peter Hourigan recommends the restoration of Lino Brocka's classic Insiang

I've just had a browse through the SFF offerings - certainly an interesting mix of well-known, some certain goodies, and probably more than a few dubious ones.

Plus a lot - a helluva lot it seems - of revivals, restorations, etc.  And noted that Insiang is among them   This is one that I wrote about last year in my Senses article on Bologna.  Copied in below.


It is easy for restorations of high-power films to hog the spotlight. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) do not really have to justify the value of their being restored and re-presented in the best possible condition. But a film like Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976) has to fight to regain its public recognition. Il Cinema Ritrovato screened a new restoration that more than eloquently made the case for its cultural worth, and the value of expensive new laboratory work.

Brocka, openly gay and critical of the Filipino political regime, always had a struggle to make his films. Insiang is a study of a young woman surviving in the slums, an environment that sucks humanity and joy out of its dwellers. The powerful opening sequence in an abattoir establishes the milieu and sets up its audience for a powerful confronting experience. It is still as uncomfortable as it is no doubt was for Filipino society at the time. Lino Brocka described his films as “first and foremost a character analysis: a young woman raised in a miserable neighbourhood. I need this character to recreate the ‘violence’ stemming from urban overpopulation, to show the annihilation of a human being, the loss of human dignity caused by the physical and social environment and to stress the need of changes (in) these life conditions.” 
The new print screened in Bologna is a triumph of film restoration, completed this year as part of the Martin Scorsese supported World Cinema Project. This project is rediscovering and restoring significant films from beyond the usual sphere of Hollywood and commercial filmmaking. It has already restored works from Asian, African and other Third World filmmakers. Insiang is on YouTube in a muddy, pallid copy. But the restoration is sharp, and rich, showing how Brocka exploited the technology he had to explore this world, and used two colour palettes to enrich his themes. There is the dirty, dun-inflected yellow, the colour of the slums, the dirt, the lack of any vegetation or other natural beauty where people are forced to live. Then splashing through this comes the shock of the manufactured colours, the electric pinks and purples and greens the shanty residents have chosen in attempts to brighten their lives – a T-shirt, a plastic utensil, a tablecloth.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Peter! There was a 16mm print in the South Australian film library managed by esteemed Andrew Zielinski. Must chase up whereabouts now, as so many of that library's gems.