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The Coolest Movie in Theaters This Weekend is a Three-Hour Filipino Historical Epic

Peque Gallaga's war drama is vivid, violent, and anticapitalist.

A still from "Oro, Plata, Mata," directed by Peque Gallaga.
(Experimental Cinema of the Philippines)

Take it from me—the easiest way to feel intellectual while literally just having fun is heading to Spectacle Theater—a collectively run microcinema in Williamsburg—and buying a ticket for the weirdest shit they've got screening. "At Spectacle, we pride ourselves on getting unappreciated and unsung films on our screen," Paul Crucero, a Spectacle collective member and projectionist (who is, full disclosure, my buddy), told me. "If a film has 2,000 views or less on Letterboxd, that film is usually a good pick for Spectacle."

This Sunday, that's "Oro, Plata, Mata," (1982) a 194-minute historical war drama film by Filipino director Peque Gallaga and programmed by Crucero, who was born in the Philippines but has spent most of his life living in Brooklyn. "Oro, Plata, Mata," or "Gold, Silver, Death," is an anticapitalist epic split into thirds. It follows two wealthy, widowered Filipina matriarchs and their children—sisters Margarita and Trinidad in one family unit, and Miguel in the other—through four years of Japanese occupation of the island of Negros during World War II. Viewers watch as the family—along with their ever-shrinking entourage of servants—are forced into baser and baser circumstances, from a city manse to a plantation in the countryside to, finally, a series of thatched huts deep in the mountains, fleeing an essentially unseen foreign menace and running directly into the horrors of domesticity, isolation, and class conflict—the latter, according to Crucero, is a running theme in Filipino cinema as a whole.

I watched the movie for the first time on Wednesday, courtesy of Crucero, who assured me that it was an under-seen world cinema gem. Crucero said that after he watched the movie for the first time—and was blown away by it—he was shocked again when he found out nobody he knew had ever heard of it. He stumbled upon "Oro, Plata, Mata" when a research rabbit hole led him to director Gallaga. "I did my research and I was like wow, nobody really knows about this director, but he's regionally acclaimed from my neck of the woods," Crucero said. "Then, I watched 'Oro, Plata, Mata' and I was like, 'Wow, I NEED to talk about this with somebody.' Cinema like that, the fact that it exists and it's left undiscovered, just spurs me forward to find even cooler shit. It's definitely something I could see playing at BAM or Lincoln Center—this is truly a gift to cinema, and I just wanted to expand other peoples' knowledge." 

I am pleased to report that Crucero is right: This movie fucks. It's well-paced—I swear to Letterboxd, you don't feel the three hours—and luridly beautiful. It features, in no particular order, a 20-minute classic 80s shootout sequence, a man's head getting ripped in half, some beautifully shot games of mahjong, a waterfall wading pool tucked deep in the jungle, and some possibly unsimulated sex scenes, (Director Gallaga got his start, apparently, in softcore pornography) all in service of a plot on par in scale and depth with "Days of Heaven," "The Leopard," or "Gone With the Wind," if they were made by someone with Pier Paolo Pasolini's stomach for gore and contempt for rich people. I would love to see it on an even bigger screen, but Spectacle's black box—especially a sold-out house—definitely suffices for now.

I do, however, have some bad news: The first screening of "Oro, Plata, Mata" has already sold out, so you might want to start plotting how you'll get your hands on tickets for the next three showings on May 9, May 17, and May 27. Sunday's screening will feature a Q&A with a panel of participants, including director Gallaga's son Wanggo Gallaga and "Oro, Plata, Mata" star Joel Torre, and moderated by Crucero. Catch it soon, so you can tell your friends you saw it when it still had a sub-3,000 watch count on Letterboxd.

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