A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s
Flowers of the City Jail
Bulaklak sa city jail
The Philippines, 1984, 118’, Filipino
2K Restored 2019
Directed by: Mario O’Hara
Screenplay: Lualhati Bautista
Photography (color): Johnny Araojo
Editing: Efren Jarlego
Art Direction: Jon Jon Portugal
Music: Tony Aguilar
Producers: Archie Cobarrubias, Cherry Cobarrubias
Cast: Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, Celia Rodriguez, Perla Bautista, Ricky Davao, German Moreno
Date of First Release in Territory: December 25th, 1984
One of the most underrated Filipino directors abroad, but not at home, Mario O’Hara (1946- 2012) was both a talented screenwriter and director, not mentioning his acting in several films, especially in early films by Lino Brocka, like the fascinating Stardoom, Dipped in Gold (Tubog sa ginto), or Weighed but Found Wanting (Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang), in which he was playing odd characters. He was also a theatre director, playwright and radio announcer. He also wrote a teleplay which inspired Lino Brocka for his famous film Insiang (1976), which was shown at the Cannes Directors Fortnight, as the first Filipino film shown at Cannes.
After directing TV dramas in the late 1970s, with big stars like Alma Moreno or Rosa Rosal, he made one of his most famous films Three Years Without God (Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, 1976) then directed some films with top star Nora Aunor, like Castle of Sand (1981) or Why Is the Sky Blue? (1981). In 1986, he directed The New King (Bagong Hari, with Dan Alvaro), a daring film which was then censored, and came out while the “People’s revolution” was on the way to oust Ferdinand Marcos…
But his strongest film at that time was probably Flowers of the City Jail (Bulaklak sa city jail, 1984), a tough prison film starring Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar and Celia Rodriguez. Most of the film is set in a women’s prison, where night club singer Angela (Nora Aunor) lands after being charged for the murder of her lover’s wife… There she experiences very hard days, as a victim of the women’s hierarchy, and also the abuses of the prison authorities. As she discovers she is pregnant from her lover, she also experiences the harsh life of the inmates, in a dark parallel world, where violence and humiliations are the daily menu. The strong performances by Nora Aunor, but also by Gina Alajar (Juliet) and Celia Rodriguez (Luna), all of them favourite actresses of Lino Brocka, contribute to the success of the film, under the direction of Mario O’Hara, without concessions, and the film can be compared to some of the best prison film classics, such as Women’s Prison, directed by Lewis Seiler, with Ida Lupino (1955). Flowers of the City Jail was a success at the Metro Manila Film Festival, and got the Best director and Best actress awards that year.
Later in the 1990s, when there was a crisis and decline of the Filipino film industry, Mario O’Hara worked with legendary producer Lily Monteverde (aka Mother Lily), for Regal Films, under her “pito pito” system of seven days for the shooting and seven days for post productions. He made films like Woman on a Tin Roof (Babae sa Bubungang lata, 1998, shown at the FEFF 2001), or Sisa, a fantasy about a character of José Rizal’s novel Noli me tangere. One of his late films was Woman at the Breakwater (Babae sa breakwater, 2003), a very personal film which was shown at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes.
In most of his films, Mario O’Hara was always starring to subvert the rules and cliches of the Hollywood like system dominating Filipino cinema until the early 2000s, like in Demons (2000) or even in the most commercial films he had to make for eating, like Luis Buñuel…
Mario O’Hara died in Manila (Pasay) in June 2012 at age 66, from leukemia. A big loss for Filipino cinema.
Mario O’Hara (b. 1946) frequently collaborated with Lino Brocka. In the 80s, he directed several films with superstar Nora Aunor. After 1990, when the Filipino film industry was declining, O’Hara had to adapt to the “pito pito” system of Regal Films, making two films in these minimal conditions: Woman on a Tin Roof (1998), and Sisa (1999). In the years 2000s it was increasingly difficult to find producers for the kind of films Mario O’Hara wanted to make. His last film was Ang paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (2010). O’Hara died in 2012, aged 66 only.
1976 – Mortal
1976 – Three Years Without God
1981 – Bakit Bughaw ang Langit?
1987 – Three Mothers, One Child
1994 – Fatima Buen Story
1998 – Woman on a Tin Roof
1999 – Sisa
2000 – Demons
2003 – Babae sa Breakwater
2010 – Ang paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio