Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows," and Filipino melodrama

Watching Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955)reminds me of claims (in the Toronto festival, no less) that Filipino filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's films are 'Sirkian.'

Certainly both turn the dial up on melodrama, but the way I see it Sirk's films are based on some level of psychological and sociological reality, made plausible by smooth pacing and a gorgeous visual style--in this case a woman driven by peer and familial pressure to reject a lower-class man that she loves--while Carlitos seems driven by a need to, I don't know, come up with something we have never seen before (and with any luck never will again).

Like the plot of his Abot Kamay ang Pangarap (Elena's Redemption, 1996)--a woman made pregnant by her employer signs an agreement prepared by the employer's lawyer to settle out of court; once signed, she is raped from behind by said lawyer and spat on in the face. She returns home to the provinces, is slapped and shaken by her father (for bringing shame to their family, he yells), screams, and faints after having a miscarriage; when she wakes up she's suffering from amnesia--the rest of the picture is a flashback as her mother tells her her story, in an attempt to restore her memory. All this in the first ten or so minutes of the picture.

Sirk adds touches like the deer that miraculously shows up for the film's finale, affirming themes about nature and naturalness, that (if you look carefully) looks nervously offscreen before bounding away, apparently frightened off by some unseen stagehand.

That's subtle compared to the maid's attempt in halfway through Abot Kamay to get an abortion. She enters the world's most unsanitary illegal clinic and the first thing the abortionist does when entering is to drop all his instruments on the filthy floor. He's all apologies as he picks them up, asking her if she wants to go through with it; she doesn't (I wouldn't either, if he insisted on using those sticky instruments). He waves her aside with a sniff and calls for the next patient; a young girl and her boyfriend come in, heads bowed. The girl looks up, exclaims: "Father?" The abortionist looks down, yells "daughter?" He proceedsto slap her around, saying she's a disgrace to the family, etc., etc.

Sirk might provoke titters, if the viewer is in a particularly cynical and unreceptive mood, but Carlitos--Howlsville, absolutely.

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