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14 August 2014

Jun Robles Lana's "Barber's Tales" (Film Criticism): Women Under the Marcos Dictatoship and Beyond

RATING: 4.5/5
Jun Robles Lana’s “Mga Kwentong Barbero” (Barber’s’ Tales) is a must see. The film is set in 1975 during the height of the Marcos dictatorship. However, instead of focusing solely on the political element of Marcos’ Martial Law oppression, Lana set his palette on the personal struggles of women in an inconspicuous town. In so doing, Lana painted a complete picture of Philippine society during the 1970s. “Barber’s Tales” is a feminist film that dramatizes how Filipino macho society, then and now, regards women as commodities for male consumption. In a way, the Marcos military rule is a mere extension of whole scale male oppression of women, and rebellion against such macho domination is regarded as evil and must be severely punished. Lana was astute enough to put forth his message in an unhurried manner without being too preachy. In the end, the film espouses that freedom from all forms of oppression is achieved through solidarity, in the case of “Barber’s Tales,” female solidarity. 

However, Lana does not limit his ideology with women’s struggles, and his film refuses to present a simplistic black and white story. “Barber’s Tales” also featured caring male characters, from an idealistic college student to a benevolent town parish priest. These male characters stand alongside women in their struggle for emancipation.

The title is ironic. A “barbero” (barber) is traditionally male, and a woman performing such a job was uncommon during the 1970s.  Lana also shot some scenes in sepia or muted colors to give the film a vintage look for more authenticity.

For some Filipinos who have chosen to forget the sins of the Marcoses, or worst, actively participate in rewriting the history of the Marcos dictatorship, this film puts a damper on the Marcos loyalists' agenda. The film clearly revealed that the Marcos deathly arms were so powerful that they stretched far through many small country towns all over the country. 

Bottom line, if you miss this film, you have no right to complain about the lack of quality Filipino films in theaters these days.

Top: The funeral procession scenes
in "Himala" and "Barber's Tales."
Bottom: The provincial woman's
hairstyle in both "Tatlong Taong 

Walang Diyos" and "Barber's Tales."
The ensemble cast is amazing, a perfect example of underrated acting that highlights the characters more than the actors. Not a single performance was flawed. Everyone was in top form regardless of screen time. Leading the pack is Eugene Domingo, who gave the best performance of her career so far.  As an extra bonus, there is delightful surprise at the end of the film. 

Eugene Domingo once said that she considered Nora Aunor as her idol.  Some scenes in “Barber’s Tales” were inspired from Aunor’s movies namely “Himala,” "Bona," "Minsan May Isang Gamu-gamo" and “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos.” See if you can spot them.  Interestingly, Domingo paid homage to Aunor in this film, and whether this is accidental or not, the tribute just highlights Domingo’s talent as a complete thespian, adept at comedy and drama. In a way, Domingo bagged a role that Nora Aunor would have gotten if this film were made in the mid-1970s. 

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