After 35 years, 'Batch '81' continues to be relevant

Dec 20, 2017
batch 81 review

When Mike De Leon’s ‘Batch ’81’ was released in 1982, the Philippines was in political turmoil. The significance of its repressive themes resonate with the Filipinos, who at the time, are at unified agony over Ferdinand Marcos’ implementation of Martial Law for years. Fast-forward to 35 years, the pain and hunger for widespread freedom can still be felt. It should’ve ended three decades ago, it seems history is repeating itself all over again.

batch 81 review

Batch ‘81’ is a coming-of-age film about a group of neophytes joining a fraternity, but acceptance of their enlistment must correspond to a series of gratuitous and unjustified challenges/ initiation. Some leave, some killed, but only the strongest will survive the oppressive presence of the organization’s leaders.

batch 81 review

The film, which is currently making tours through special screenings nationwide, is enhanced to a 2K resolution by the Asian Film Archive in Singapore, allowing the much-needed preservation of the slowly damaging original film prints. It also closed this year’s QCinema International Film Festival, which I managed to catch.

batch 81 review

The cinema, filled with filmmakers and press members who for sure have caught the film sometime before, are all applauding throughout. But all the cheers and clapping were followed by a long silence. A silence that can easily be interpreted as a reflection. A reflection so confusing it literally reflects the headlines on the newspapers. I actually happened to hear someone at my back cursing silently during a key scene in the film that displayed an electrocution scene involving a father and his neophyte son. 

batch 81 review

“Do you think martial law is beneficial to our country,” asks the father operating the electrocution machine to his son grappled in a chair connected to it. The son didn’t answer, as if he died from this.

batch 81 review

Those who have seen the film knows what happens next. The entirety of the film is supposed to play out as a satirical look on the corrupt and oppressive hierarchy of Philippine politics, as shown in a prolonged scene of a school performance with the fraternity members and neophytes dancing in drag, but jokes on them [and Mike De Leon]. This supposed joke is becoming more and more serious.

batch 81 review

This year, De Leon is close to finishing his comeback film ‘Citizen Jake’ starring Atom Araullo. The film’s Facebook page, which serves as a medium for the filmmaker to express his viewpoints, is filled with hateful and saddening posts about our confused state. It’s as if De Leon slept for decade, only to wake up to the same thing.

batch 81 review

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