Karnal Review – Dark, Brutal and Beautiful
Here’s our quick Karnal movie review, which is currently part of ABS-CBN’s digital restoration initiative. The movie was directed by Marilou Diaz Abaya and stars Philip Salvador, Joel Torre and Charito Solis to name a few.
*Writer’s Note: I was a bit pissed that the Wikipedia entry for Karnal didn’t contain a plot so I might as well make one
Narcing (Salvador) returns to his family’s property of Mulawin together with his wife Puring (Cecille Castillo) after encountering some money problems in Manila. He faces his father, Gusting (Vic Silayan) in the hopes of getting his inheritance in advance to be able to start a new business back in Manila. Gusting allows the couple to stay provided Narcing returns to working with him in overseeing their ‘hacienda’ and the family’s farm. The couple is also introduced to Narcing’s sister Doray (Grace Amilbangsa) and her husband Menardo (Pen Medina). Puring on the other hand is just there to support her husband. But the Manila girl doesn’t fit really well in her new environment. During one encounter with the town’s “elite” she embarrasses Narcing to the point that he beats her up when they get home.
It’s also during this incident that Puring gets to know the town’s outsider Goryo (Joel Torre). Pretty soon, the two become friends and even goes beyond that. While Narcing is away to work for his father, Puring and Goryo continually meet. As the days pass by, the people around Puring sees not just the physical resemblance with Narcing’s deceased mother but also her activities.
It was revealed that Narcing’s mother was branded an adulteress by the village much to the dismay of her father. She was publicly humiliated on the way home and by the morning, she had hanged herself.
One day, while Narcing was away, Gusting gifts Puring with a necklace that belonged to his late wife. He then attempts to rape Puring but was caught by Doray.
Puring confides to Goryo in what had happened to her when they are suddenly confronted by a few men on the road home. One of the men is Gusting. Gusting and company return home with Goryo accosted and Puring being dragged by the hair. Narcing finds out what has happened and a fight breaks out between father and son. Narcing is no match for his dad and as he lays almost beated, Puring informs him of the attempted rape. This sends Narcing into a fit of rage where he kills Gusting by chopping off his head.
The next day, the village mourns for the death of Gusting and Narcing follows the tradition of dragging his father’s corpse to the cemetery. We also see him dig his father’s grave which was also a tradition. Later with the crowds gone, Narcing weeps at what he has done. Goryo approaches and tries to explain what happened that night to no avail.
Narcing is sent to prison for his crime while Puring leaves home and stays with Goryo for the meantime. Goryo takes care of Puring who is revealed to be pregnant. They later seek help from the villagers as Puring enters labor. With nobody willing to help them and the capital so far away, Puring gives birth by the river with Goryo assisting her.
Rumors suggest that Puring had given birth to a hideous monster reaches Narcing in prison who makes plans to escape. During this time Puring goes on temporarily mad and viewers are left to decide whether the baby had indeed died prior or had been killed during the scene. Narcing makes his escape and reaches Goryo’s home where a long conversation follows. This is cut short when police officers track down Narcing. Goryo tries to stall the police officers but fails. Puring and Narcing try to flee via the cornfields but is caught by the police officers on horseback. Narcing is tied and dragged back to prison with Puring and Goryo helpless.
Back in prison, Narcing commits suicide by slitting his throat. Puring moves back to the house, witnesses Doray’s departure and then ends up leaving Mulawin as well.
As an epilogue, the narrator is revealed to be Doray’s daughter now all grown up in Manila.
I have to give this film a slow clap. Karnal was brutal yet brilliant.
The remastered edition definitely pulled out all the good stuff and made it seem more important. It made every action in the film worth investing your time on.
Plot-wise, I have to say it was dragging at first, those long scenes in the opening of Karnal bored me to death. Took a while before we warmed up to any characters in this movie. They all seem, unlikeable. But as the story progresses and things go downward spiral for most of them, you definitely get to commiserate with them. That’s right, Karnal isn’t a movie that ends on a high note. Rather its the reflection of our dry and dreary life.
It’s definitely an analysis of how our motivations lets us sink rather than swim. It seems like most of the characters had submitted to their most “carnal” desires. So while Karnal has a sexual connotation, it’s also defined as “
The acting here is top-notch. I rank this the best Philip Salvador movie I’ve seen (in the drama genre anyway, I still love-hate his movie with Kris Aquino). That scene where he silently mourns the death of his father (played by Vic Silayan) not only moves people, but also conveys half a dozen emotions. That cry he does? You can think of it as weeping of regret, weeping for fear of incarceration and a whole lot more.
A younger Joel Torre as Goryo also took the stage for me. Him delivering Puring’s baby in the dark, by the river is powerful stuff. Then there’s also the fact that he went full-“R” with his performance and its still awesome.
Symmetry is also something that worked wonders for me when I saw Karnal. The symmetry between the opening and closing scenes where Puring and Narcing reach Mulawin for the first time then Puring leaving the sleepy rural town alone at the end. The line of questioning as to what happened to Puring at the end of the story versus who she is and where she came from at the start. Cool symmetry.
Karnal has some dark topics, dark scenes and brutal tones but its a great way to look at humanity. It’s a treat to watch if you’re in a reflective mood but I would definitely not let you watch the movie if you’re in a dark place.