Worthy, faithful but ultimately pedestrian adaptation of the prize winning novel, “Dekada 70” offers a year-by-year account of the slow political awakening of a middle-class Filipino family over a decade of repression and martial law. Veteran helmer Chito Rono skillfully interweaves the familial and the political in pic carefully aimed at stemming the tide of political amnesia and right-wing revisionism, while not turning off a middle-of-the-road audience. Unfortunately, such cinematically safe practice seems unlikely to attract arthouse interest, paling as it does before the delirious political soap operas of Ripstein or Chahine.
At the center of the film and the family is Amanda (Filipino cinematic diva Vilma Santos) who vicariously experiences living under a dictatorship through her husband and five sons’ different reactions before coming into her own as a person. Her husband, Julian (Christopher De Leon), seems a walking contradiction: He offers rationalizations for the government while supporting his eldest son’s revolutionary activities, but has a fit when his wife wants to get a job.
As for the sons, firstborn son (Piolo Pascual) joins the guerillas in the mountains. The second son (Carlos Agassi), forced into a shotgun wedding, defiantly works for the American Navy. The third son (Marvin Augustin) writes journalistic exposes he can’t publish, while the fourth son (Danilo Barrios) is a mystery to his family until his brutal, motiveless murder (probably by police) reveals a lost girlfriend. The fifth son (John W. Sace) is still a boy.
Santos’ Amanda effortlessly and movingly chronicles the changed consciousness of the family and the country, with understatement her most reliable tool. Pic begins and ends with images of Santos at the forefront of a political demonstration, and nothing, from first image to last, for 128 minutes, is allowed to spontaneously or slyly deviate from the logic of her consciousness-raising.
Tech credits are professional and soberly subdued, as befits the film’s stylistic downplaying of its impassioned message. Evocations of ’70s era profit greatly from film’s casual depiction of hairstyles, artifacts and costumes.