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Kisapmata: a Reaction Paper

In: Film and Music

Submitted By christianbelda27
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The production of the film “Kisapmata” (Blink of an Eye) by Mike De Leon depicted a religion-based Third World patriarchy which reflected the dread, confinement, culture of violence and oppression during the Marcos regime. It showcased different symbolisms in terms of Marcos’ dictatorship during his reign in the Philippines. Each character of the film reflected what role to play in line with the Marcos regime. In addition, most of what the film depicted is how much patriarchy was alive back then in the Philippines.
As observed, the characters portrayed different symbolisms. The most evident character in the film is the father who symbolizes “Marcos”. He played the role passably as an oppressive, harsh, and a “control freak” kind of father that the film highlights profusely. The actions he portrayed in the film symbolized the deeds of Marcos during his reign. Noel, his son-in-law, Mila, his daughter, and even his wife were the ones who lived under fear of his power. The father, as a patriarch, was seen in different levels of his manipulation on the lives of the newlyweds. In parallel with this situation is the Marcos’ reign along with his obsolete parliament. This clearly showed the oppression that Marcos possessed towards the Filipinos during his time such as the midnight-to-dawn curfew and the limitation of what the media can report out to the people. If anything, the patriarchy shown by the film made us realized that it was also the convention among families during Marcos’ reign.
The effective use of the father-figure having the power over the mother and the daughter who had no ways but to succumb to the father is a perspicuous example as to why patriarchy is prominent in families in Third World countries. Patriarchy is supposedly a social system where the males have complete control over the female in families and in terms of economy, property, children and women. The patriarchy portrayed in the film showed how oppressive the rule of the father can be, so as to the allegory of Marcos himself.

Kisapmata and the Marcos Regime

Kisapmata was released in 1981 which is during the Marcos regime where the economy of the Philippines is at its best. Film during that time was a key component of society tormented with contradictions within the ruling class and between the socio-political elite and the masses (Deocampo, 2008).
However, during that time, Marcos sought to regulate filmmaking. One of the first rules promulgated by the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP) was the submission of a finished script prior to the start of filming (“1970’s Films”). The government tried to control the film industry while keeping it in a good humor. Moreover, films in this period dealt with more serious topics following the chaos of the Marcos regime with de Leon’s Kisapmata as one of the films.
The film captured a scene whereas the notion of the traditional family is beginning to shatter. Martial Law produced a fertile environment for women to come together as immense and empowered Filipinas in spurring the birth of campaigns against the trafficking of Filipino women and the exploitation of women in general, as well as awareness-raising efforts on instances of torture and rape of female political detainees.
The film challenged the Filipino audience by addressing the detrimental effects of incestuous relationships, patriarchy, and at the same time exhibiting the traditional norms of the Filipinos in marriage, courtship and family. Despite all the positive and negative criticisms the film had gone through, it still became a breakthrough film as it was the first major treatment of incest in Philippine cinema. The movie was both a critical and box-office success, establishing De Leon as one of the great directors of the new generation. The movie garnered 10 major awards in FAMAS, was presented in Cannes in the Director's Fortnight, and was adjudged by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as one of the 10 Best Films of the 1980s (“Kisapmata wins”).

Third World Patriarchy, Dadong and Marcos

The film articulated the father (Sgt. Diosdado Carandang also known as “Dadong”) being regarded as the commanding authority and has the power, dominance and superiority within the family which showed a very traditional Third World patriarchy in the Philippines. However, the film focused more on the pessimistic and deleterious side of a patriarch who controls over his family through force and coercion.
Dadong, being the patriarch, was depicted in the film as a violent, incestuous, tyrannical, devilish, drunkard father possessing an overpowering nature over his family members. Being the decision-maker of the family, he assumed to have the sole control over everything that happens within the house and the family. Dadong also showed an abnormal excess of “macho” behavior throughout the film by: (1) being a slave of alcohol believing that it is the secret of having a youthful look, (2) being overprotective and possessive to his daughter to the point where he upholds direct control over her life even through her marriage, and (3) being an intimidation to others especially to those people he regarded as inferiors such as in the cases of Noel, Mila’s mother and the household helper. Ironically, the dominance of Dadong failed to be consistent when he cried in the part of the film where Mila and Noel secretly left his premises and planned to live independently through Mila’s attempt in the hospital. This scene of Dadong’s alter ego showed the patriarch’s devastating acknowledgment of an enduring damage to his masculinity and the feeling of helplessness despite the power he yields over his family.
Given the social context in which the film was created and released, the father represented an indirect criticism of the Marcos dictatorship during the time by being a tyrannical patriarch throughout the film, using terror as a major determinant of an authoritarian figure. Similar to Marcos’ declaration of martial law during the time on which the military forces have control over the civilian population, the controlling nature of the father over his family and even over his son-in-law depicted the cruelty and abuse of power over others especially to those that are inferior and physically vulnerable. The actions of Mila towards his father throughout the film depicted the losing appeal of the patriarchal model during the time by showing how excited she is to stray from the convention which is somehow allegorical to the notion of People Power during the Marcos regime aiming to overthrow him as the Philippine president and to regain national democracy and genuine freedom.

Religion and Patriarchy

Religiosity is in the blood of most of the Filipinos. Religion, being one of the foundations of the society, plays a vital role in depicting the inner character of an individual. This can be a weapon to hold on to when one experiences great challenges of life. In the film, a lot of religious symbolisms could be seen like the altar designed in their house where Mila prays during her hopeless occasions. This, in relation to the latter, gives a picture of the daily living of the Filipinos. Be it in the church or at home, sense of spirituality can be traced in the face and lifestyle of the Filipinos.
One of the adapted Filipino beliefs from the past is the patriarchy that is dictated by religion. In almost all religions, men are oftentimes the ones who lead their subordinates. It is evident in the film that, although Dadong and his wife were still not married, he has the dominion over his wife.
During the Marcos regime, Filipinos, in spite of being religious, were able to do nothing to end the Martial Law. Hence, religion will not work against cruelty brought by the ruling government without the courage of the mass to take a stand for their fellow Filipinos. Only a few out of hundreds and even thousands of Filipinos spoke up and gathered together to express their opposition towards the government. As shown in the film, Noel was the only one who had the courage to struggle with Mila’s father to achieve freedom not only for Mila, but also for the other people. Noel might not be able to be alive until the end, but at least, he tried what he can do for the sake of many.

The Modern Bungalow

According to Quiling (2013), “the house is a fundamental space for a character’s consciousness, and this structure is a familiar image in Filipino films.” Houses, a basic setting in Filipino films where the narrative and the characters are able to move in, are essential. Its characteristics influence the characters’ consciousness and narrative. In De Leon’s Kisapmata, the film depicted a middle class family home filled with dread and confinement – a modern bungalow. It was ruled by an iron-fisted father named Dadong. The bungalow is protected by a corroded steel gate and cement walls decked with barbed wires. The house structure, which is enclosed in such a dismal and overprotected perimeter, is a reflection of the tension happening inside the house.
It was also depicted in the film that Dadong used the vacant space of their residence to make a pigpen. While in an area outside of the house, an earthworm farm can be observed. This only shows that the father in the film utilized the idle spaces of the house for some other activities shown in the film as queer forms of his behavior. On the other hand, Mila and her mother are confined mostly of their time in their respective rooms, thus implying that the father has an overall intimidation in the household.
The bungalow house has the same features as compared to other bungalow houses during that time. But unlike the others, the interior design of the house reflects the father’s disturbing nature. Mila’s room does not have a doorknob so that Dadong can easily enter anytime he wanted. In this case, both the functional significance of doorknob in allowing privacy and of the lock as psychological threshold is ignored by the father (Bachelard, 1994). It was also observed in the film that the telephone is placed below the room of Mila’s parents. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to use the telephone without the father hearing or knowing. Delineation of Culture of Violence

The abrupt and unexpected death of all the main characters in the movie caused by Dadong’s rage and his uncontrollable desire, clearly made sense of the title “Kisapmata”, which means that in just the wink of an eye, anything can happen, like a sudden, merciless act of cruelty and murder brought about by the compelling nature of the father’s obsession over his daughter and his power in the family.
The film had a catastrophic ending because firstly, it did not give justice to the main character. Mila remained the hopeless prisoner to her father and the malicious act that was done to her in the past was not resolved. Secondly, Noel, Mila’s husband was ought to be the hero in the story wherein he can take authority of Mila and take her away to the suppression of the father. However, he also remained inferior and it turned out that he, like everybody else, cannot do anything about Dadong’s authority, since he was also killed at the end.


The mediocrities of the governance during the Marcos regime had inflicted all sectors of the nation as these have pertained to autocratic administration, imperious dictatorship and séance parliament of the Marcoses. Such dominance and cruelty as experienced by many Filipinos has been felt throughout the course of history and were visualized by the senses and literature given by the views and opinions of the mass whereas such discourse was inevitable throughout the Philippine chronicle.
Industries like film-making had shown implications of the current status as to what the political environment had offered during the reign of Marcos. Kisapmata was one of those films that showed those passable issues in effect to the livelihood of the Filipinos, specifically in the portrayal of families within a society manipulated through tyranny and unjust policies.
Dadong both as a father and a husband portrayed an ideal image of what a tyrant is, within the aspect of what families do call as home. Ideally, home is where families grow dependently with one another and as well as independently with themselves prior with the effect on these family ties set up by the members within the household. This shall engage communication, understanding and support from each and everyone that are all susceptible for a sound environment where individuals can live along and be together in perfect harmony, but in Dadong’s case, this was not applicable. Traditions inflict measures, and measures derive orders, and with Dadong along the way, his family could not bear such identity seen in him as a tyrant, not as a husband nor a father. Mila, as the daughter, have made sacrifices along with his mother as they continued to be with an abusive psycho. All the symbols of the film such as the structuring of the house, the unpleasant attitude of Dadong, and the uncomfortable depictions of the scenes inside the house all portray the sociopathic nature of the character. The mother portrayed the greatest level of inferiority since she was depicted as the most submissive character in the film, followed by Mila and Noel. Mila as the object of interest was less submissive since anger was all she can feel towards her father all throughout the film, while Noel depicted the least submissive since there were scenes that portrayed his ideals against Dadong’s management in the household. These characters did try to harmonize with one another especially with the antagonist, but as time went by, they grew weary and rebellious against the recurring stigma of Dadong’s infliction not only inside the house they live but to their own lives as well. This perception can be viewed based on the traditional sense since this film is not leveled to the current and modernized idealisms and systems of the society.
The contrasting as well as the harmonizing roles of patriarchy and religion was shown all throughout the film. Since patriarchy was strongly evident and religion was the only stream in which Mila hold on to as the only hope, the film gave rise to the political idea that religion has a significant role in lifting pertinent issues of unjust conditions given by politics itself. Thus, this made the film viewers disturbed even more given the unpleasant depictions of Dadong as a dominant figure. And to think that the film ended horrifically, given the situations depicting characters as spiritually faithful and yielded no or less effect or contribution against the fall of the antagonist, the film posed a question on the existence of the Almighty being passive during the midst of unfortunate events happening in the lives of characters, knowing that this film was based on true story. Spiritually and socially as to their context, it posed many issues and concerns that make this film a combination of tragedy, horror and suspense. As it has been clearly pointed out before, the bungalow house reflected the dread and confinement in the film experienced by the characters, and the father’s controlling nature, given the other roles present, was rooted in the traditional culture and beliefs of the Filipinos.
In the end, the film concludes the helplessness of the Filipino society under an abusive governance of the nation. Like a domino effect, it reflects to the individual units of the communities which are the families. And with that, it can be concluded that whatever happens in the overall society, bad or good, they are all reflected into their subunits, which in this case are the ways of an improperly-managed government depicted in the household units down to the members of the family. The detrimental effects pose consequences as well as clashes on principles and behavior that challenge the humanities of people. Incest, patriarchy and the passive religiosity as social contexts of a person were the core concerns of this film that needs to be addressed to contradict the demons of one self.

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