A Miracle (Himala)
Himala is a Filipino term for a miracle. It is the title of a Filipino film directed by Ishmael Bernal and released in 1982. The movie stars the Philippine Superstar Nora Aunor and written by the multi-awarded screenwriter Ricky Lee.
The story of Himala is based on the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to 8 children in CabraIsland sometime in 1966. The young girls aged 10-12 were pupils at the CabraElementary School in the province of Occidental Mindoro. The girls claim that they have seen the Virgin Mary while on their way home from school on a hill (burol).
Accordingly, the apparition wants to have a church built on the hill 30 meters wide. When asked for the purpose of her earthly visit, the vision said that the world is in sin and she wants the people to return to the path of holiness.
Himala is the story of a young woman named Elsa (Nora Aunor) who lives in the small town of Cupang with her adoptive mother Aling Saling (Vangie Labalan) who claims to have found Elsa as a baby on top of a barren hill.
The town of Cupang has been experiencing a drought and the townsfolk believe they are under a curse because they drove away a leper from Cupang years before.
During a solar eclipse, Elsa claims to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary on top of the hill. When a sick person whom Elsa has touched gets well, the people start to bring the sick to her for healing.
She becomes a faith healer and throngs flock to her house for healing. She is assisted by her friends Chayong (Laura Centeno) and Sepa (Ama Quiambao) who become members of Elsa’s “Seven Apostles” which include the entrepreneur Mrs. Alba (Veronica Palileo).
People from the neighboring provinces and even tourists come to see Elsa. The residents of Cupang takes advantage of the opportunity and starts to rent out spaces in their houses, sell religious items and sell bottled water that Elsa has blessed and uses in her healing.
A filmmaker named Orly (Spanky Manikan) arrives in Cupang to make a documentary about Elsa. He interviews Elsa and the people who are close to her. At the height of Elsa’s popularity, her childhood friend Nimia (Gigi Duenas) comes back to Cupang and puts up a cabaret which the Seven Apostles have managed to close.
Chayong’s boyfriend Pilo (Crispin Medina) wants to marry her but she feels it is not time to leave Elsa’s side. She has managed to keep herself pure as she is very religious so that when she is raped by some juveniles high in drugs, she commits suicide by hanging herself. She is so disappointed when Elsa is not able to help her. She perhaps thought that the Virgin Mary could have delivered help through Elsa.
The viewers first learn about the rape when the filmmaker Orly confesses to the town parish priest what he saw on top of the hill where Elsa and Chayong usually go for meditation. He confesses that because of his desire to get a scoop for his struggling career, he has continued to film the incident instead of helping the two women. He feels so guilty.
A Chinese businessman from Manila who frequents Elsa’s house for healing gets killed and robbed by Pilo and Chayong’s brother because they need money for their application for employment to Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, two of Sepa’s children get hold of some tainted meat from Elsa’s house and contracts cholera. Instead of taking the boys to the doctor, they call Elsa. It is too late when they realize that Elsa cannot heal the children.
The cholera epidemic spread and few of the children die. Elsa’s house is closed off to patients. Elsa stops healing. Then the patients and tourists stop coming and Cupang becomes the way it was before, drought-stricken and barren.
Elsa tells her mother that she is no longer sure if she really has seen the apparition. She is not sure of anything anymore. She blames herself for the death, the murder, the rape, and for all the evil things that is happening in their town.
When Elsa becomes pregnant from being raped, the people conclude that Elsa’s pregnancy is an “immaculate conception.” Their conviction is further strengthened when at that exact moment, rain begins to pour.
The ecstatic townspeople are convinced that “himala” or miracle has returned and that the curse on their town is finally lifted. They march to Elsa’s house rejoicing and believing that Elsa has indeed caused a miracle to happen in Cupang.
Elsa orders her followers to get the townspeople to assemble on the hill. It is the movie’s highlight when an enlightened Elsa tells the people that there are no miracles and no apparition. She declares the most remembered line in the movie, “Walang himala!” (No Miracle!).
She is shot to death and a stampede follows. After Elsa’s lifeless body is taken away, Sepa proclaims that Elsa is a saint and a martyr. Sepa leads the people to pray the “Hail Mary” as they walk on their knees back up the hill.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the success of this movie is that most of the actors are from the theater. There are no big stars except Nora Aunor who, after this movie, has secured her place as one of Philippine cinema’s best actresses.
The movie is simple yet it drives home the point. It’s the story of faith and faithlessness, deception, morality, and selfishness.
When Orly, the filmmaker interviews Elsa’s childhood friend Nimia, she tells Orly that Elsa sees what she wants to see. Nimia is one of those who believe that Elsa is a fake.
The movie showcases the fact that people believe what they want to believe. The people in Cupang, steeped in superstition and have been longing to be delivered from the so-called curse that has been placed upon their town are only too willing to put their hope on Elsa.
Elsa’s claim of seeing the apparition has been accepted without question, especially those who stand to profit from it. Perhaps for Elsa, the most difficult thing is to make herself believe her own lies.
One of the best lines in the movie is from Nimia who tells Elsa, “They are not sick. You are sick.”
When death surrounds her, Elsa gets enlightened and starts to doubt herself. The end has her shouting her famous line, “Walang himala! (No miracle). She dies for such a declaration.
But people believe what they want to believe. They declare Elsa a saint. They do not want to let go of the miracle that they want.
ABS-CBN Film Archives, in its bid to preserve films, has restored and provided a showcase of Philippine classic films for the new generations of Filipinos. One such classic film that is restored, theatrically screened, and released in DVD is Himala and for such, ABS-CBN Film Archives is awarded the Philippine Quill Award. The restoration of classic films has raised awareness on the importance of Philippine cinema and its preservation.
Awards and Recognition
The movie Himala was filmed in Ilocos Norte in three weeks with a budget of Php3 million. It premiered at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival and swept 9 awards:
Best Director – Ishmael Bernal
Best Actress - Nora Aunor
Best Supporting Actor – Spanky Manikan
Best Supporting Actress – Gigi Duenas
Best in Screenplay/Story – Ricky Lee
Best in Editing – Ike Jarlego, Jr. and Ben Pelayo
Best Cinematography – Sergio Lobo
Best in Art Direction – Raquel Villavicencio
From Gawad Urian Awards:
URIAN 2000 - One of the Ten Best Films of the 1980s
URIAN 2002 – One of the Ten Films from 1970 – 1999
1983 - 19thChicago Film Festival: Bronze Hugo Awards Winner
1983 – 29th Asia-Pacific Film Festival Award: Special Achievement for Best Depiction of Socially Involved Religion
2008 – Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA): CNN Viewers Choice Award as Asia Pacific Best Movie of All Time
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