That cactus scene felt unforced. It was a symbol, but so quiet and unemphasized di mo mapapansin kung di ka nakatingin (you wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking).
And the 'minor' characters--notice how, when a big confrontation or whatever happens, they all turn out to watch? It's something like 'the court of public opinion' you hear about in TV and newspapers, only here it's the shape and size of the apartment complex's courtyard. It's incredible how precisely and how detailed is (Mario) O'Hara's portrait of the structure of this mini-society--a microcosmos of the larger Philippine society.
And that sense you got of intimacy even in the big scenes--I always have this impresson of O'Hara looking down on his people and story, orchestrating everything, arranging that the narrative runs just right--not too loud, not too quiet. At the same time he's right next to the characters, urging them on, feeling for them, knowing and understanding and loving them. You see this most of all (I think, though it also comes through strong in Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981)) in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976).
It's like a double-vision , and that I suspect isn't just hard to do it's almost impossible to do. (Lino) Brocka couldn't quite do it--he's almost always caught up in his characters. (Ishmael) Bernal could do it better than Brocka--but not, I think, as well as O'Hara (plus O'Hara's camerawork and editing is much better).
This is why I think O'Hara's our best, bar none.