Himala ("Miracle") is a 1982 Filipino drama film directed by Ishmael Bernal and produced by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. The film's script was written by Ricky Lee based on a series of alleged Marian apparitions to schoolgirls on Cabra Island in the province of Occidental Mindoro, which took place from 1966 to 1972.
Himala was filmed entirely in the Philippine province of Ilocos Norte in just three weeks with a budget of only ₱3 million. The film premiered at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival, and in 1983, became the first Filipino film to be included in the "Competition Section" of the Berlin International Film Festival. Since then, Himala has been exhibited in a number of film festivals around the world.
On 11 November 2008, Himala won the Viewer's Choice Award for the Best Film of All Time from the Asia-Pacific Region in the 2008 CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards beating nine other films voted by thousands of film fans around the world. The ten finalists were chosen by critics, industry insiders and actors—including Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. 
Himala is widely hailed as one of the greatest Filipino films of all time. Nora Aunor is best known for her performance in the film as the purported seer and healer Elsa. Her portrayal is considered by most Filipino critics as the best of her career. In 2012, on its 30th anniversary, Himala is the first film to be restored and remastered by ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab as part of ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project. The restored version premiered at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.
The setting is a small town named Cupang, a community set in an arid landscape. The townsfolk believed that the ongoing drought was a curse placed upon them for driving away a leper some years before.
During a solar eclipse, a local girl named Elsa (Aunor), reports seeing experiencing an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary near a tree atop the barren hill where her adoptive mother Aling Salíng (Labalan) found her as a baby. Elsa soon after engages in faith healing the local residents. She is assisted by her friends Chayong (Centeno), Sepa (Quiambao), and Baldo (Almeda) who eventually became part of her "Seven Apostles", which later includes the entrepreneur Mrs. Alba (Palileo). Word spreads, drawing pilgrims and the curious to Cupang and Elsa's house, which is marked with a large banner proclaiming "Elsa Loves You". At the same time, enterprising residents of Cupang begin selling religious articles, offering accommodation–all capitalising on the sudden influx of local and foreign patients and tourists.
A Manila-based filmmaker named Orly (Manikan) arrives in town to make a documentary on Elsa, hostinghosting interviewing her and the people who personally know her. Around the same time, Elsa's childhood friend Nimia (Dueñas), now a prostitute, has returned to Cupang. Nimia establishes a kabaret (nightclub/brothel) for tourists, which is later ordered closed by Elsa's Seven Apostles.
One day, Orly approaches the town's vicar (Lamangan) in the local church's confessional. He tells the priest that he saw two drugged youths from Manila raping Elsa and Chayong on the hill of the apparitions. Orly tries to unburden himself of his tremendous guilt.
A cholera epidemic spreads throughout Cupang, with Sepa's two children dying after eating tainted meat. A still-traumatised Chayong then hangs herself out of shame following the rape. As the townsfolk bring the three bodies to the graveyard, a fourth coffin follows; the deceased's mother chastises Elsa, accusing the seer of failing to heal her child. Authorities quarantine Elsa's house, closing it off from would-be patients, while Elsa blamed herself for all of the deaths and decided to stop healing. Eventually, the pilgrims and tourists stopped coming, returning the town to its sleepy state.
Elsa is seen throwing up from morning sickness, indicating her pregnancy from the rape. Mrs. Alba erroneously concluded that it is an "Immaculate Conception" (when she really meant the Virgin birth), and then declares it proof of Elsa's sanctity. At that exact moment, thunder roars from the skies, followed by a sudden downpour. The townspeople rejoice, convinced that the miracle has returned and that the curse has finally been lifted. Mrs. Alba and the crowd rush to Elsa's house and called out to her while dancing in the rain. Elsa emerges at her window, and commands her devotees to assemble the townsfolk and pilgrims on the hill.
Speaking in front of an eager crowd, an initially apprehensive Elsa confesses that there were no miracles, no sightings of the Virgin, and that it is man who invents gods, miracles, and curses. In the middle of her passionate speech, a gun is fired at Elsa, mortally wounding her. A violent stampede ensues, with the old, the children, and the infirm being injured or killed in the mass hysteria.
Ensconced in her mother Salíng's arms, Elsa takes her last breath as she gazes at the sky as Orly and the media film her final moments. Baldo announces Elsa's death, eliciting wailing and weeping from the people who then rush towards the makeshift stage. To convey Elsa's corpse into a waiting ambulance, her followers lifted her lifeless body–lying as though she was crucified–above the heads of the crowd clambering to touch her. People scamper all over the hill to follow Elsa's ambulance as it speeds away. Against her husband's will, Sepa addresses the crowd, proclaiming Elsa a martyr whose devotion to the Virgin must continue. Sepa and the congregation then fall on their knees and creep up the hill while repeatedly reciting the Hail Mary.
- Nora Aunor as Elsa
- Veronica Palileo as Mrs. Alba
- Spanky Manikan as Orly
- Gigi Dueñas as Nimia
- Vangie Labalan as Aling Saling
- Laura Centeno as Chayong
- Ama Quiambao as Sepa
- Ben Almeda as Baldo
- Cris Daluz as Igme
- Aura Mijares as Mrs. Gonzalez
- Joel Lamangan as Priest
- Ray Ventura as Bino
- Crispin Medina as Pilo
- Tony Angeles as Chief of Police
- Joe Gruta as Mayor
- Estela de Leon as Bella
- Lem Garcellano as Narding
- Cesar Dimaculangan as Lucio
- Mahatma Canda as Lolo Hugo (Blind Man)
- Vicky Castillo as Aling Pising (Beggar)
- Richard Arellano as Nestoy
- Erwin Jacinto as Intong
- Jeremiah Sird as Jack-Jack
- Potenciano de Guzman as himself
- Reynaldo Mababangloob III
- Nelson Obach
Ricky Lee begun to write the script for Himala in 1976 under director, Mike de Leon. Ricky Lee (although requested to be uncredited), Gil Quito and Doy del Mundo together co-written Itim. Quito told Lee, about a female faith healer he and a friend visited in Malolos, Bulacan. The faith healer was cured of cancer by another faith healer, leading her to be a faith healer herself. She insists that medicine is just as good as the faith of people, but soon her cancer came back and eventually took her life. This intrigued Lee, enough so that he began to think about writing a story revolving around a faith healer, and soon he and Quito visited another faith healer in Tondo, Manila. While they were visiting, Lee and Quito remembered the story of eleven-year-old Belinda Villas, who was living on Cabra Island in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro. In 1966, she and several friends reportedly began experiencing visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary dressed in white and blue. As the principal seer, Villas eventually began healing people and the island experienced a boom in commerce. This became the primary inspiration for Lee's screenplay.
With the help of Bibsy Carballo, Lee approached several producers to promote the script but was rejected several times. He entered the script to a contest by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines where it became one of the selected scripts for production. Lee was given a month to come up with the final draft and was given ₱40,000. Several aspects of the script was revised. One of the unchanged parts is the casting of Nora Aunor as Elsa.
Lee came up with different endings for the script of Himala. In one version, Elsa did not die; the townsfolk gradually stopped flocking to her and she reverted to being an ordinary person. Many years later, Orly chances upon Elsa drawing water from an old well, having fallen into obscurity along with her "miracle". In another ending, Elsa was resurrected, similar to Jesus Christ. In the end and the beginning, Elsa's devotees are depicted awaiting her return to continue healing the sick townsfolk.
Shooting began on 13 July 1982, with the arrival of the art department in Paoay, Ilocos Norte led by production designer, Raquel Villavicencio. The production team needed a place to shoot that shall depict the main setting of the film-a barren and arid land where plants hardly grow and where the soil cracks. This is to suggest a setting where a slight rain would be considered as a miracle by its inhabitants. The problem encountered by the team is the shooting took place during the rainy season in the Philippines, and the film was to premiere at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival. The region of Ilocos was selected as shooting location of the film after scouting locations around the country for the driest place for the shoot.
Baryo Calayab was the venue of the set which was used to depict the town of Cupang. Ten carpenters were employed to prepare the set who worked for 24/7. Around 3,000 extras were employed for the film. Director Ishmael Bernal also asked people actually inflicted by disease to portray sick people within the film.
Bernal also called for the film to be minimalist, direct to the point, and "straight to the soul" and discouraged unnecessary dramatic effects. For example, the characters of Elsa and Nimia stood still, with minimal gestures in the scene where they argued. The scene was focused on the dialogue.
Another key element of the film was the bare tree where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared. The tree was against the sky on top of a hill, but it was actually transplanted to the originally barren hilltop. The production team searched for the bare tree among green leafy trees near the area. The tree used in the production was discovered to be a hibiscus tree after it began to sprout leaves.
For the final scene in Suba Beach, the 3,000 extras were called to participate which were divided into eight groups. Rain fell and the 6 August shooting had to be postponed, while several of the extras fell sick. By the end of August, shooting for the final scene was finished. Eight cameras were used with one placed below a Meralco crane. 3,000 extras were still used for the scene which was done in one take. Production costs for the film grew due to delays caused by rain and in at least one occasion, a sandstorm. The shooting for the film took two months.
Subject and impact
Himala is the story of Elsa, a barrio lass whose supposed visions of the Virgin Mary change her life, turning her into an overnight sensation and causing mass hysteria in a poor, isolated northern Philippine village suffering from a drought. The film is centred on the issues of religious faith and faithlessness, morality, and truth. As Elsa, Aunor delivered the film's most iconic line in the climax:
Himala became a box-office hit, earning an impressive ₱30 million, becoming one of the highest grossing Filipino films in the 1980s. Aunor also won several awards for her performance. it is also considered as one of the greatest Filipino films of all time.
Himala has won numerous awards and distinctions in the Philippines and abroad, including Best Picture from the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival and the 1983 Catholic Mass Media Awards.
At the Metro Manila Film Festival, the film swept nine of the eleven awards available. Aunor won the Best Actress award for her role in the film, and was nominated for other top acting awards in the Philippines. She was nominated for Best Actress at the 33rd Berlin International Film Festival, where Himala vied in the prestigious competition for the Golden Bear Award. The film was personally handpicked by Festival Director Moritz de Hadeln in the official selection.
The film's international honors also included the Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival; it received a special religious citation in the 1983 Asia-Pacific Film Festival held in Taipei, Taiwan; and it was selected as the opening film for the 1983 Manila International Film Festival.
Himala was the choice of the Filipino film critics' society Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as one of the ten best films of the 1980s. In 2002, the same critics' group named Himala one of the best Filipino movies for the last three decades, from 1970 - 1999.
Bernal, the film's director, was conferred the National Artist Award posthumously (he died in 1996). His body of work was accorded the high recognition of Gawad CCP para sa Sining in 1990, and the Centennial Honors for the Arts, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Philippine Declaration of Independence and Nationhood in 1998.
Himala was the only Filipino film that made it to the shortlist of the Best Asian Films of All Time chosen by CNN International in 2008. It was cited for its "austere camera work, haunting score and accomplished performances [that] sensitively portray the harsh social and cultural conditions that people in the third world endure."
Gawad Urian Awards
- One of the Ten Best Films of the 1980s, URIAN (2000)
- One of the Ten Best Films from 1970–1999, URIAN (2002)
- Winner, Bronze Hugo Awards, 19th Chicago Film Festival (1983)
- Asia-Pacific Film Festival Special Achievement for Best Depiction of Socially Involved Religion (1983)
- Best Asian-Pacific Movie of All Time, CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award (2008)
Originally, the collaboration intended to stage a "sequel," set twenty years after Elsa was shot (the same time that had lapsed since the movie was shown). It would have starred Nora Aunor in the role of Elsa, establishing her as surviving the gunshot.
However, Aunor was not available and the team went on to produce a musical version of the movie. It was staged in the Huséng Batutè Theatre (Studio Theater) of the CCP in 2003 in the 20th season of Tanghalang Pilipino. The libretto was by Ricky Lee, music and musical direction by Vincent de Jesus, lyrics by Vincent de Jesus and Ricky Lee, direction by Soxie Topacio, set and costume design by Gino Gonzales, choreography by Jose Jay Cruz and lighting design by Benjamin Villareal, Jr. May Bayot played the role of Elsa together with Isay Alvarez as Nimia, Cynthia Culig-Guico as Chayong, Eladio Pamaran as Orly, and Dulce as Nanay Saling. Bayot won an Alíw Award for Best Actress in a Musical that year.
Due to popular demand, it was re-staged at the larger Tanghalang Aurélio Tolentino (Little Theater) in 2004 in the 21st season of TP with the same artistic team. It went to Shanghai, China in 2008 as the Philippine representative to the Shanghai International Theater Festival. Waláng Himala, the final song in the musical, was featured in CCP's Gala 40th Anniversary Concert "Rubies," performed by mezzo-soprano Clarissa Ocampo with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Maestro Chino Toledo.
The original cast recording, produced by de Jesus, was recorded in 2008 and was released independently.
The musical has been revived twice locally in 2013 and 2018. The first revival was a dramatized concert production performed in 2013 at the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Theater Center in Quezon City. Majority of the original CCP cast and production team returned for this production, alongside new cast members. The second revival was performed in 2018 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. This production was notable for its minimalist and immersive design (opting for a near-barren set designed by Ed Lacson, who also directed). Aicelle Santos played the role of Elsa, with Bituin Escalante as Nanay Saling, Kakki Teodoro as Nimia, Neomi Gonzales as Chayong, Sandino Martin as Pilo, and David Ezra as Orly.
In 2012, Himala was restored and remastered by ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab. The restored version premiered at the 69th Venice Film Festival, and was released in the Philippines on December 5, 2012. Himala Restoration Project: Restoring, Relieving, and Re-experiencing a Multi-awarded Filipino Film Classic won the Anvil Award 2014 of Merit for PR Programs on a Sustained Basis - Art and Culture/Heritage/Tourism.
List of film festival competed or exhibited
- 1982 - Metro Manila Film Festival
- 1983 - 1st Manila International Film Festival (Exhibition)
- 1983 - 33rd Berlin International Film Festival, 18 February to 3 March 1983 (Competition)
- 1983 - 19th Chicago International Film Festival (Competition)
- Award: Bronze Hugo Award
- 1983 - 29th Asia Pacific Film Festival
- Award: Special Achievement for Best Depiction of Socially Involved Religion
- 1984 - Moscow Film Festival
- 1998 - First Philippine Film Festival Vienna, Austria, September 21–24
- 1999 - 21st Hong Kong International Film Festival
- 2001 - 3rd Cinemanila International Film Festival Tribute to Ishmael Bernal, December 7–16
- 2002 - UCLA Filipino Film Festival Classics of the Filipino Film, May 10–12
- 2006 - New York Filipino Film Festival
- 2008 - Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA)
- Award: CNN Viewers Choice Award as Asia Pacific Best Film of All Time
- 2012 - 69th Venice International Film Festival (Venice Classics),
- 2014 -The 20th Festival International des Cinémas d'Asie | Festival du Film Asiatique de Vesoul "Cinemas d'Asie" (11-18 Feb 2014), France
- 2014 - 50th Chicago International Film Festival (Exhibition)
- 2015 - 28th Tokyo International Film Festival (Cross Asia Section)
- MiracleHunter, Inc. (2008). "Marian Apparition Claims of the 20th Century". The Miracle Hunter. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- Pythias08 (2008-11-27). "CNN Screening Room's feature on Himala". YouTube. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- (2008-10-21). "Himala: A Treasure of World Cinema". Superstarstruck.
- "Filipino film 'Himala' wins CNN APSA Viewer's Choice Award". CNN.com. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- Dlanorsk5 (2008-12-26). "Nora Aunor HIMALA as CNN Viewer Choice Award as Best Film in Asia-Pacific". YouTube. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- (2008-10-27). "Himala in CNN film poll" Archived 2012-09-17 at the Wayback Machine. Inquirer.net .Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- Plaza, Gerry (2008-11-12). inquirer.net, "CNN: ‘Himala’ best Asian film in history" Archived 2009-02-20 at the Wayback Machine. Inquirer.net. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
- ABS-CBN launches restored version of Himala
- "Restoring Himala", 5 August 2012.
- May Himala! Restored film proves real global classic. Yahoo! (16 August 2012).
- "Restored version of Himala premieres at the 69th Venice Film Festival", 18 August 2012.
- Lee, Ricardo. "Si Tatang at mga HImala ng Ating Panahon - Himala", p. 54-93. Bagong Likha Publications, Inc. (1988).
- (2012) Sa Puso ng Himala (in fil, en). Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines: Philippine Writers Studio Foundation, Inc.. ISBN 978-971-94307-3-5. Template:Rp
- (2009) "Ang Paggawa ng Himala (The Making of Himala)", Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon : Koleksyon ng mga Akda (Tatang and the Miracles of Our Time: A Collection of Works), Special (in fil), Quezon City: Writers Studio Philippines, 1369146. ISBN 9789719430711.
- Berlinale: 1983 Programme. berlinale.de.
- "Himala is one of CNN-UK's top 18 Asian films". gmanews.tv.
- (2008-10-22). gmanews.tv, "Himala vies for CNN’s Viewers Choice Award". GMA NewsTV.com.
- "Pinalakang Gawad Urian". Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Retrieved on 28 March 2011.
- "Chicago International Film Festival 1983". IMDB.com.
- de Jesus, Totel. "'May 'Himala!'–and, on its 10th year as a musical, is now in concert form", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2013-03-16. (in en)
- Radovan, Jill Tan. "Why 'Himala: Isang Musikal' is worth watching", Rappler, 2018-02-23. (in en)
- Del Valle, Precious. "6 things you need to know about 'Himala: Isang Musikal'", Rappler, 2018-01-22. (in en)
- ABS-CBN, humakot ng 9 na parangal sa Anvil Awards.
- Venice Classics.
- Vesoul focuses on Philippines and Vietnam.
- Chicago International Film Festival - Summer Screenings Program 2014 Schedule.
- Ricky Lee Official Website
- Saksi: 'Himala' is viewers' choice in APSA 13 November 2008
- CNN: ‘Himala’ best Asian film in history
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