Touch Me Not

Gerardo de Leon’s 1961 historical drama, set in the Philippines during the final days of Spanish rule, burns with the kind of emotional urgency that characterizes The Birth of a Nation, as the scion of a wealthy family returns from his studies in Madrid to find his hometown on the verge of a populist uprising. The film has its share of improbable plot twists and stock characters (especially its villainous priests and colonels, who parallel the ruling elite in the Philippines following the American occupation), and much of its acting and visual vocabulary are deliriously anachronistic, closer to D.W. Griffith than one might expect of an epic shot in the late 50s. Yet this primitive look perfectly evokes a bygone era of pomp and circumstance, of tropical poetry that barely masks a seething discontent; it provides a romantic veneer for de Leon’s agitprop, allowing him to get away with unconventional mise-en-scene like a musical interlude that connects and yet separates the classes as they sing “Ave Maria.” The archival print being screened is in bad shape, but don’t let that deter you from seeing this exemplar of Filipino cinema. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, July 23, 6:00, 312-443-3737. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.