5 Movies Ilonggos Commonly Watch During Holy Week

By joseph batcagan

Ilonggos are a movie-loving people. Heck, one of our writers from Project Iloilo even proved it with a short piece about old cinemahouses in the city a few weeks back. So, what can perhaps surpass—or, at the very least, equal—our devotion to the movies, then? Well, it’s quite simple: it’s the Christian faith. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, movies and religion can mix, and we’re surreptitiously aware of it ever since the dawn of network television in the country.

Indeed, for as long as your humble writer-kuno can remember from way back when, Holy Week essentially means that “regular” activities grind to a screeching halt everywhere one went: all shops are closed, barely any jeepney driver was going out of the garage to ply his route, and even kids were forbidden to have a modicum of fun with other kids. It’s all prayers, all devotion, all week. And so it was that there was only one way for many people to pass the time during those days: watching religious-themed movies on TV. Yep, you really can’t go more old-school than that.

But of course, our options for entertainment are so varied these days that even if you don’t have a cable box attached to your TV set, you still have the option of loading prepaid credits on your cellphone so you can surf the web for three days as to render the age-old tradition of watching religious movies on your TV almost moot. But trust us when we say that many of our local networks are still showing one of these movies below, and the good thing about it is that you have at least a few days where “only” one or two annoying ads can have the power of interrupting you while you watch said movie.

If you’re like me and you grew up during the era of pre-cable, pre-internet, and pre-hugot, then here are the most common movies that Ilonggos are accustomed to watching every Holy Week! Before we proceed with the list though, here’s one reminder: we only considered films that are shown ONLY on local network TV and basic cable. So, if you’re wondering why we didn’t include more “artsy” fare like Life of Brian or Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, then it’s mostly because no local network provider had ever dared airing them here. So, got that? Let’s go, then!

1. The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Ten Commandments - Project Iloilo

If we’re going to talk about Bible movies, then nothing can be more pioneering than this classic film about the tale of Exodus distilled into 220 minutes. Sure, it may not have been exactly about Christianity per se, but the themes and plotlines explored in what arguably is still the highlight of director Cecil B. DeMille’s oeuvre—switched births, forbidden loves, and the unshakeable faith in the Almighty Being—are distinctly Filipino in flavor. There’s no wonder why this film gets endlessly replayed on IBC-13 without fail every Holy Week back then.

Of course, we can’t namedrop this film without having to mention perhaps the most memorable sequence in the entire film: the parting of the Red Sea. While “special effects” like the Burning Bush at the Mount are charmingly quaint because of its understandable crudity, the Red Sea sequence just looks very, very hard to pull off, even today. Yeah, we’ve got the animated Prince of Egypt from 1998 and last year’s Exodus: Gods and Kings making mincemeat of all this film’s 1950s movie wizardy, but seriously, both those films NEVER screamed “Holy Week viewing” for me. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner as ‘Moses’ and ‘Rameses’ does. Absolutely no contest.

2. Samson and Delilah (1949)

Samson and Delilah - Project Iloilo

You may think of a Holy Week movie as anything other than being “sensual”, but that is not the case with Samson and Delilah. It’s still a DeMille movie, though the reason I have listed it under The Ten Commandments is because of the fact that it doesn’t enjoy the same replay frequency as its other more famous counterpart here in our shores.

Still, the movie is really fun for what it is: a glorious throwback to the stylings of old Hollywood when everything is colorful and not a hair on every actor’s face was out of place. And man, Hedy Lamarr as ‘Delilah’—I always thought the film unfairly painted her as some kind of scheming Jezebel, but later rewatchings did confirm that she’s more “anti-hero” than “villain” in this film. And thanks to “Run, Samson, Run” being played on infinite loop on Sunday radio, later generations of Ilonggos will always know the tale of the two doomed lovers, even if they don’t know that there was already a film made about it in the ‘50s.

3. King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings - Project Iloilo

For a list like this, it’s kinda expected that most of it would be populated by nothing but films about Jesus. And yes, there were many of them made between the ‘60s and ‘70s—too many, in fact, that it can be hard to distinguish one Jesus film from another (Jesus Christ Superstar, however, does not have this problem because at least this film’s Jesus sings, but I digress).

Honestly, I can hardly remember anything about this film, except for the fact that this is one of the more prominent movies shown on local TV during Holy Week. For all intents and purposes, this looks like a standard “biopic” too, so personally, it can be hard to take anything memorable from this. And speaking of “memorable”…

4. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

The Passion of the Christ - Project Iloilo

I once attended a fiesta in Balabago years ago, and a friend suggested I bring along some DVDs so we can have a movie marathon at their place. In all my infinite wisdom, the first thing that came to my mind to bring over was The Passion. Oh sure, everyone was still in a fun mood for the first fifteen minutes; it only took a little before all that laughter transitioned into a deathly silence up until the end of the film, and then we didn’t spoke with each other during dinner afterwards. If you’re looking for a movie that will surely put you in a state of pamalandong (a Visayan word for “meditation”)—as it surely did with us—then this is a prime candidate for Holy Week viewing.

Its grittiness and violence is with a purpose though, and it’s admirable how director Mel Gibson can single-mindedly focus on the suffering of Jim Caviezel’s Jesus while providing incidental context to everything else that happens in the film. Even in the “clean” versions shown on local TV, it’s hard not to flinch every time a centurion punches Jesus in the mouth. It’s a movie clearly designed to make people uncomfortable, and based on my aforementioned Balabago experience, it clearly succeeds for the most part.

5. Tanging Yaman (2000)

Tanging Yaman - Project Iloilo

Oh, it’s not all Western movies on this list, oh no; I chose Tanging Yaman (titled as A Change of Heart in its global release, because why not?) as the lone Pinoy entrant in this list because really, what other local movie is being shown on national TV every Holy Week with seeming regularity? Not the Matt Ranillo III-starred Kristo, that’s for sure (for an artista screen name, that sure is a mouthful to pronounce).

Make no mistake: Tanging Yaman wears its spirituality on its bleached-white sleeves. Despite that, I never got the feeling that it ever tried to alienate anyone who does not subscribe to Christianity in any form; its themes of unity and family will seem familiar enough to anyone who have experienced squabbling with a sibling before. Yes, I’m looking at you.

And one note to make: just to make sure that the film is something that cannot be escaped easily even in the most casual of occasions, its theme song still gets played during Sunday masses. That, our dear readers, is REAL cultural penetration at work.

So, I know this list is far from perfect, but in the spirit of the season, the least I can ask of you is for your forgiveness. And what better way to do so than by commenting below on the films we may have missed for this list? So, what’s that one “Holy Week movie” that you grew up with and stayed with you up until this current point in your life? Please share it with us by commenting below!

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.