Kisapmata (1981)

A young woman gets married but her authoritarian father refuses to let her out of his sight in this grim and unnerving domestic drama with elements of horror, directed with vehemence by the great Mike De Leon. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,581

Dir. Mike De Leon
1981 | Philippines | Drama/Thriller | 98 min | 1.33:1 | Tagalog
M18 (passed clean) for mature theme and sexual scene

Cast: Charo Santos-Concio, Jay Ilagan, Vic Silayan Charito Solis, Ruben Rustia
Plot: A retired police sergeant has an unnatural stranglehold over his wife and daughter. His claustrophobically enclosed world is threatened when his daughter Mila finds herself pregnant and was forced to marry Noel.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Distributor: Solar Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Domestic Authoritarianism & Abuse; Newlyweds
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener (as part of Asian Film Archive’s Mike De Leon retrospective)
Spoilers: No

For more info on the Mike De Leon retrospective in Singapore:

Kisapmata is an excellent entry point for anyone hoping to explore the work of Mike De Leon, one of the Philippines’ most acclaimed filmmakers from the ‘Second Golden Age’ of the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

It is grim and uncompromising, pushing social realist-style filmmaking to some kind of domestic extreme, as an authoritarian father refuses to let her recently-married daughter out of his sight. 

An ex-cop, the father is played by Vic Silayan in one of the great, vicious performances of Philippine art cinema, so much so that I wished I could tie him to a pole and give him a solid kick in the nuts. 

Overly protective and physically abusive, the father figure is, of course, an allegory of the brutal Marcos dictatorship—De Leon doesn’t even attempt to hide the political dimension of Kisapmata by situating the woes of his country in the microcosm of a family wretchedly willed to torrid existence through coercion and abuse. 

“I can’t forgive him.”

Not since, say, Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (1960), a classic of the Korean Golden Age, has an Asian domestic drama depicted with such malevolence the disintegration of a family.  Not even God can help the innocent when He is superseded by the Patriarchy. 

De Leon’s wonderful craft is highly-evident as he makes use of horror and thriller tropes to create a palpable sense of fear.  At the same time, the storytelling is economical with nary a wasted moment. 

There is an extraordinary scene in black-and-white (the film is in colour), intended to be a nightmare as we see the daughter walk down the stairs with water gushing down the steps—Psycho meets The Shining, maybe? 

Directed and performed with vehemence, Kisapmata is unforgettable and unnerving, and comes highly recommended. 

Grade: A-



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