A Tale Of Two Brothers: Lino Brocka’s ‘Cain And Abel’ Reviewed
by Rachel Bellwoar
Action movies sometimes have a habit of treating female characters like window dressing. Melodramas, on the other hand, often center female characters and their stories. Lino Brocka’s Cain and Abel is what happens when you mix the two genres together.
As the title tips off, Cain and Abel is about two murderous brothers. While they’re not the Biblical Cain and Abel exactly, Ellis (Christopher de Leon) and Lorens (Phillip Salvador) have been pitted against each other by a mother who has always played favorites. Now Señora Pina (Mona Lisa) is sick, yet while Lorens has always been the one to help manage the farm at the expense of his own education, it’s Ellis who shows up with a new girlfriend (Carmi Martin) and a request: that Señora Pina leave the land to him.
In Brocka’s reimagining of Cain and Abel, Lorens is technically the good brother yet it’s Ellis who always gets his way. Neither brother holds a candle to the women in this film, however. While they tip toe around their mother and try to please her, Lorens’ wife, Becky (Baby Delgado), and Ellis’ girlfriend, Zita, are the ones willing to stand up to her. That being said, they also aren’t afraid to put aside their differences and come to each other’s aide. So often action movies like to draw a hard line between sides, and it doesn’t get much more divisive than Cain and Abel, yet that’s not how the women in this movie roll (and that goes for Ellis’ baby mama, Rina (Cecille Castillo), too).
It’s because the women in Cain and Abel are so far from being clichés that the last quarter of this movie is especially repulsive and upsetting, as every bad thing that could happen happens. Action movies always have violence, but this is violence against women taken to extremes. It feels like the female characters are particularly targeted – plus, it wouldn’t be the ’80s without an electronic score and Max Jocson’s music only adds to the tension when one of the characters gets hurt. As a melodrama, Cain and Abel rivals one of Douglas Sirk’s films, but it’s a shame the film felt like it needed to change gears.
Kani Releasing’s Blu-Ray includes two new interviews recorded over Zoom in December 2021. The first is with De Leon, who talks about getting cast in Brocka’s Weighed But Found Wanting (which was his feature film debut), how Brocka taught him to act with his eyes, and why Cain and Abel offered a change from the films he had been doing at the time.
The second is with Martin, who had mostly done comedies before Cain and Abel, and who recalls going to Cannes with Brocka for another film, Bayan Ko, and how the government under the Marcos regime almost stopped them from attending.
Author, José B. Capino (Martial Law Melodrama: Lino Brocka’s Cinema Politics), provides a featurette and booklet essay which looks at where Cain and Abel falls within Brocka’s filmography and provides some socio-political context. The featurette also considers the film’s use of deep space compositions.
Last but not least, screenwriter, Ricky Lee, provides some notes and annotations in the booklet about script changes that were made over the course of developing and filming Cain and Abel. If you’re someone like me who sometimes forgets to read the booklet or thinks she’ll read it afterwards but then ends up putting the film away, that would be a mistake with Cain and Abel (but, in the same breath, even one of the captions has a spoiler, so don’t read the booklet before watching the movie).
Cain and Abel is available on Blu-Ray from Kani Releasing.