Three Years Without God (Tatlong taong walang Diyos) (Three Godless Years) (1977)
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Not so long ago, I finally came into a certain understanding that Filipino films will always be inclined into 'melodrama': The sappy music, intense displays of physical animation to accompany the drama, and of course, tears. It's a nauseating phenomenon in the Philippine movie industry when absolutely done the wrong way. But thank god there are films such as "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" to serve as timeless testaments to the magic that 'melodrama' can create and manifest within one's senses and emotions, from simple to complex, when done perfectly.
The film started with Hitler's rhyming, mouth-foaming speech regarding the strength of his socialist party. Being set in the times of the Second World War, the film unveils like how a history text book would for a student. But after this run-of-the-mill introduction, its story unfolds like how a poet affects to even the farthest of souls.
In plain sight, the film may look like your typical 'love caught by the tides of war' and a period vehicle for its star and producer, Nora Aunor. Granted, the love story arc is already established prior to the complications of the narrative, but I am deeply surprised and pleasured how complex the film really was.
At various points, "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" can be viewed as a metaphor for the ravages and ruins that the Philippines (The idea of the motherland may allude to Nora Aunor's (subtly powerful, as always) character Rosario and her initial abuse in the hands of Masugi, played by Christopher De Leon) have experienced during the Japanese Occupation and, on the opposite end, the potentially unconscious development of the Philippines' slow embrace towards the Japanese ways (how Rosario learned to love Masugi after she has been raped).
And pushing it further, Bembol Roco's character Crispin is the physical manifestation of the concept of a true 'Filipino' who, despite of the predicament that his real love (Rosario) has gone through, remained completely absent and consumed by fighting an abstract notion towards an illusory, national deliverance. The film may also relate to a slightly satiric approach to some Filipinos' extreme devotion to the perpetually clean-cut view of America and their intervention.
Mario O'Hara, a primed director and a memorable actor by his own right due to his performance in Brocka's "Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang", created this film with a certain honesty and a hint for something new. He dared not to mold a war film with old clays of sentiments and melancholy. He instead established a fresh foundation to the film, making the complexity of love and the ambiguity of Catholicism its true center and added up the hypnotically repugnant, yet may have been quite accurate, emotional weather of the time.
"Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" never settled for a one-sided rally behind patriotism's usual sweet myth-making; director Mario O'Hara treated the Filipino people (that includes the Guerillas) not as hopeful revolutionaries that can almost dwell on the pages of a legend, but as a confused crowd dipped into a mudflow of fever and hysteria: looking for even the slightest mistakes, violently ditching even the slightest idea of a socially unsanctioned love, and pointing fingers to even the slightest of flaws.
Nora's Rosario, on the other hand, served as their martyr; their miniature 'Joan of Ac' to make up for the futility of their distorted search for something meaningful. A senseless pervasion of mobocracy masquerading as a push for Philippines' well-being and disguised as a search for national identity.
The film covered so much, yet it came out as a simple tragedy of love. Deep analysis or surface viewing, either way, "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" is still a tremendous work of Philippine cinema. Where is film preservation when it's needed most? This film begs for a better print. Too bad it's too late.
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