Mondo Macabro // 1985 // 125 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 22nd, 2008
Asian Erotica -- Raw and Untamed
The first five plot keywords that the IMDb listed when I first checked out Silip: Daughters of Eve -- Sand, Blood, Erection, Gang Rape, Allegory -- paint an interesting portrait of the film, conveying an impression of violence without a clear cause. The film is not much different, featuring an excess of brutal violence and naked flesh without a clear cause, leaving a vague but disturbing impression.
In an isolated Filipino village, Tonya (Maria Isabel Lopez) teaches abstinence to the children while secretly pining for outcast Simon (Mark Joseph). Her sister Selda returns from the big city to visit her village home, which brings up the painful past between them, including Selda's seduction of Simon. As passions flare, secrets are revealed and the price for passion paid in the small village.
If I were feeling generous, I would describe Silip: Daughters of Eve as a fitting meditation on the brutal repression of the Filipino population by overbearing Catholicism. The violent imagery and excessive nudity could be excused as the swing of the pendulum to the extreme, as far away from staid religion as possible. The misogynist story would reveal itself as a reclamation of Catholic dogma, a repudiation of the teachings of the church on the mother of civilization, Eve.
Sadly, I'm not feeling very generous after watching Silip: Daughters of Eve. The entire story lays the downfall of humanity at the feet of women, repeating the same ridiculous biblical tripe that has subjugated women for millennia. The "daughters of Eve" referred to in the title are raped and then burned for desiring to control their own sexuality. It's not enough that the story is this ridiculously conservative, but it's reinforced with continual violent imagery, including beatings, hot sand to the crotch, and animal killing.
The real tragedy of Silip: Daughters of Eve is that a decent critique of the effect of religion on formerly isolated people lurks in the film. The hypocrisy of dogma, as well as the failure of the church to connect with lived experience, is exposed in the film, but the message gets lost in the repeated exploitation set-pieces. Whatever insight the film might generate by visually comparing the peeping tom to the confessor is repudiated by the tragic and violent ending of Tonya and Selda.
Perhaps the hardest aspect of the film to swallow is its beauty. Silip seems like the work of a Filipino Terrence Malick, and as I said, it could have been a brilliant meditation on the failures of the Catholic Church. There are numerous shots of the sand and flora that convey the hot, muggy atmosphere as the film unfolds at a languid pace. However, these moments are punctuated with the various moments of nudity and violence, destroying the thoughtful, meditative atmosphere of the rest of the film.
If you're willing to ignore the film's offensive message, Silip is an exploitation lover's dream. The film opens with an ox being hammered to death and dressed while the butcher raves about the fate of animals. There's rampant nudity, both male and female, as well as menstruation and masturbation with salt. The film also features a number of fights, including a couple of girl-on-girl extravaganzas, as well as the aforementioned hot sand to the crotch. It's almost like the director had a checklist and just kept stuffing the two-hour runtime with horrific or sexual moments to keep the audience awake during the slower, character-based sections of the film.
Mondo Macabro does its best to lower viewer expectations for the presentation of Silip, including a warning at the start of the film about the damage to existing prints. They needn't have gone to the trouble. Considering the origin and audience of a film like Silip, the film looks darn good. Yeah, it's washed out so it looks like it came from 1975 instead of 1985, but for a foreign exploitation film that's excusable. There are a few noticeable scratches here and there, but they aren't as prevalant as the warning might lead you to believe. The audio doesn't fare quite so well. The original Tagalog track is a nice option to have, but it sounds a little ragged around the edges, and the dialogue mix varies wildly, making some things difficult to hear. The few moments in English are the worst, sounding like lines from a different movie. The fact that they're un-subtitled makes them even more difficult to decipher. There's also a dub, but I suspect that's only available as comedy for those who like to watch their exploitation films drunk. It's nice that Mondo Macabro warns the viewer that the dub is of inferior quality and is only being included for the sake of completeness.
The extras begin with a fairly lengthy essay on the various stages of cinema in the Philippines, from early "bomba" films through to the "bold" cinema of Silip. While it provides some historical context for the loosening restrictions on Filipino cinema, it doesn't really address why this particular film is so brutal. After the essay, there is an 18-minute interview with the director, Elwood Perez. The first half of the interview gives his perspective on the changes in the cinema that the essay discusses. The second half deals more specifically with Silip, and his comments are interesting. Most intriguing is his statement that 1985 was a different time, and he wouldn't make this film today. He doesn't say why, but he seems alternately proud and embarrassed for his role in creating the film. After Perez, there is an interview featuring star Maria Isabel Lopez. She also spends the first half of her interview discussing the development of Filipino cinema, especially her role as an actress dealing with the changing restrictions on sex and violence. Her interview becomes difficult to watch when she reveals that the gang-rape scene was filmed in a "method" manner, with the director tying her and her co-star up tightly and encouraging the men to fondle them more than necessary during the scene. The final interview features the Art Director Alfredo Santos, and his comments illuminate more of the technical details of the production. Mondo Macabro also includes some textual bios and a trailer reel for some of their other releases.
Maybe I'm too sensitive, and Silip: Daughters of Eve is a really great exploitation movie whose message isn't that offensive. Regardless of my feelings about the film, there are those who might overlook the nastiness and revel in the gorgeous presentation of the landscape of the Philippines. Also, although I call the film misogynist and the blame for everything wrong is ultimately placed on women, men don't come off as anything other than violent brutes in the film. Too bad that's not quite enough to make up for treatment of the daughters of Eve.
Ultimately, the downfall of Silip: Daughters of Eve rests in its misguided message, reinforced by the horrific fate of the protagonists. But even if you're willing to overlook that problem, the film doesn't do enough to integrate its thoughtful and exploitative sides. I suspect that the film is too brutal for those looking for a message and too slow for those who are only looking for cheap grindhouse thrills.
Guilty. Maybe the people behind this film deserve some hot sand to the crotch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Unknown, Tagalog)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Interview with Director Elwood Perez
* Interview with Actress Maria Isabel Lopex
* Interview with Art Director Alfred Santos
* Cast and Crew Bios