Bulaklak sa City Jail

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Bulaklak sa City Jail is a 1984 Filipino drama film written by Lualhati Bautista and directed by Mario O'Hara and it depicts the situation of women in the city jail, the last item in a series of outstanding outputs by the local movie industry in 1984. Among other things, three distinctions will secure it as a last a footnote in the history of contemporary Philippine cinema: the people involved in its production marks an auspicious debut for the Cherubim outfit, it showcases Nora Aunor's best performance for her comeback year, and it signals the emergence of Mario O’Hara as a director whose command of craft has caught up with his conscience – an expectation which seemed to have been forgotten in the wake of similar successes by relatively more recent filmmakers. The story follows the searing odyssey of Angela, a victim of a miscarriage of justice, from her incarceration in the women's section of an urban prison, through her escape and delivery of her love child in a city zoo, to her recapture and eventual legal triumph in obtaining custody of her baby.[1]

The film stars Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, Celia Rodriguez, Perla Bautista, Maya Valdez, Zenaida Amador, and Maritess Gutierrez as the women who were incarcerated inside the Manila City Jail due to their crimes they commit and the crimes that were framed by the others.


Aunor is shown singing in front of an inattentive beer house crowd. She is giving a spirited rendition but we only see the eyes, or lips or hands of those around her, except for Crisanto (Ricky Davao), to whom Nora is obviously addressing her song. In the next scene, she is entering the city jail.

Nora is Angela, an orphan who falls for a married man and is later accused of trying to kill his wife. But the film is more than just her story. It is an indictment of a prison system that instead of helping in the rehabilitation of inmates only make them worse. Angela meets several other characters. Juliet (Gina Alajar) is a young mother imprisoned for estafa and whose only dream is to escape and get her son now being maltreated by her husband's mistress. Viring (Perla Bautista) loses her sanity when her daughter (the product of a liaison with a prison guard) is forcibly taken away from her. Luna (Celia Rodriguez) sells her body to male inmates to send the money back to her son. Yolly (Shyr Valdez) is a teenager committed by her own mother for delinquency. Patricia (Maritess Gutierrez) is a student arrested for the accidental death of a colleague in their sorority’s initiation rites. Then there’s Barbie (Maya Valdez), the bastonera, and Tonya (Zeneida Amador), the mayora.

Some quarters are bound to complain because of the film’s exposes. Prison guards take advantage of the inmates. Ex officio lawyers assigned to help them for free do not really care if they rot in jail. Inmates prey on one another, specially on newcomers whom the more hardened ones rob and mandhandle.[2]


  • Nora Aunor as Angela Aguilar
  • Gina Alajar as Juliet
  • Celia Rodriguez as Luna
  • Perla Bautista as Viring
  • Maya Valdez as Barbie
  • Zenaida Amador as Tonya
  • Maritess Gutierrez as Patricia
  • Gloria Romero as Patricia's mother
  • Ricky Davao as Crisanto
  • German Moreno as Warden Ambrocio
  • Bella Flores as Olga Bella
  • Shyr Valdez as Yolly
  • Tom Olivar as Paquito
  • Augusto Victa as Warden Esteban
  • Alvin Enriquez as Juliet's son
  • Toby Alejar as Mike
  • Gigette Reyes as Adela
  • Mandy Bustamante as Leon
  • Romy Nario as Totoy
  • Carmen Enriquez as Atty. Jacob
  • Cris Daluz as Atty. Diaz
  • Sarah Gayotin as Viring's daughter
  • Edwin O'Hara as Fr. Eusebio

Production staff

  • Director: Mario O'Hara
  • Producer: Archie and Cherry Cobarubbias
  • Writer: Lualhati Bautista (story and screenplay)
  • Production Designer: Tony Aguilar
  • Art Director: Jon Jon Portugal
  • Assistant Director: Ricardo B. De Guzman and Jon Jon Portugal
  • Sound Effects: Rodel Capule
  • Sound Mixer: Vic Macamay
  • Music: Tony Aguilar
  • Film Editor: Efren Jarlego
  • Cinematographer: Johnny Araojo
  • Post-Production Facilities: Magnatech Omni
  • Color Processing: LVN Pictures
  • Production-in-Charge: Pearl Valdez
  • Producton Managers: Maritess Gutierrez and Andy Biag


The film was released by Cherubim Films on December 25, 1984 and it is one of the following entries for the 1984 Metro Manila Film Festival. It won six awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

Digital restoration

The film was scanned in 4K resolution at ABS-CBN Film Archives using the 35mm print from the ABS-CBN Film Archives collection. The most challenging part in the restoration is the color grading because of the high contrast issue inherent in the film materials. Among other major damages addressed in the digital restoration were dust/dirt, patches, continuous patches, single frame scratches, flicker, stabilization, splice mark, bump, squeeze, gate hair, continuous dust, continuous line scratch, stain, mold, mis-light, vertical band, color breathing and film tear. The film was digitally restored in 2K with 3,000 manual restoration hours in Kantana Post-Production (Thailand). Color grading and audio restoration was handled by Wildsound Studios in Quezon City.[3]

The restored version of the film was premiered on November 11, 2019 at the Ayala Malls Manila Bay in Parañaque City as part of the Cinema One Originals film festival. It was attended by the film's surviving cast and staff members: actors Ricky Davao and Tom Olivar, film producer Cherry Cobarubbias and former actress and now chef Maritess Gutierrez (she also represented her mother Gloria Romero) as well as the staff and crew of the ABS-CBN Film Archives and the channel head of Cinema One, Ronald Arguelles. Actress Pinky Amador (niece of the late Zenaida Amador, who died in 2008), actress-producer Ruby Flores-Arcilla (daughter of Bella Flores, who died in 2013), and director Denise O'Hara (niece of Mario O'Hara, who died in 2012) also attended the premiere as the representatives of the cast and staff members who were deceased or unable to attend.[4]


  • Audacious claims aside, the objective significance of “Bulaklak sa City Jail” resides in its depiction of a realistic social condition in high cineliterary style – an infusion that provides ample enough tension for the most of the movie's successful portion as well as diffusion of control in its less enlightening moments.[5] — Joel David, Tinig ng Plaridel, 1985
  • This film is half won with its excellent casting. Mario O’Hara delivers the other half of this cinematic bargain. Not only does he dictate the forceful quality of the performances, he successfully manages to weave his way around the melodramatic contrivances of the screenplay to arrive at a gritty, realistic depiction of human interrelationships in the hell behind bars."[6] Rated B by the Films Rating Board 1984
  • With all this going on, you’d think Nora Aunor’s performance would be lost; on the contrary, they only enhance it. In the beginning, she’s only one of many colorful characters; by the film’s end, she’s the undoubted heroine, and the miracle is, you don’t quite know how she got there. Her acting here is so quiet—the showiest moments are when the camera focuses on her eyes, and you can see the fire in them. Aunor just may be the dumbest, most unthinking actress alive—and with the way she conducts her life to date, who’s to say she isn’t? Yet maybe she has to be, to be so incredibly intuitive—to be able to create this kind of magic, almost as if out of nowhere. She doesn’t need words, she doesn’t need thoughts, she doesn’t need anything—she just needs silence, and those impossibly intense eyes... — Noel Vera, “Bulaklak sa City Jail”
  • ... showcases Nora Aunor's best performance for her comeback year..." — Joel David, The National Pastime Contemporary Cinema (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1990), 100
  • But the acting cannot be faulted. Nora Aunor gives a very moving performance, notwithstanding that zoo childbirth scene especially engineered to endear her to her fans. — Mario E. Bautista, “Bulaklak sa City Jail,” Philippines Sunday Express, December 30, 1984, 19