Release Date(s)1982 (March 29, 2022)
Studio(s)Cine Suerte (Kani Releasing)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C
Cain and Abel (aka Cain at Abel) is a searing 1982 melodrama from Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka. Brocka was one of the premiere directors in the Philippines during the Seventies and Eighties, before his untimely death in a car accident that occurred in 1991. Brocka spent much of his career working under the repressive regime of Ferdinand Marcos, including the entire martial law era from 1972-1981. One of his great gifts was the ability to provide social criticism while working in commercial genres, but in a manner that was oblique enough so as not to draw the ire of the Marcos administration—though as the fortunes of Marcos waned during the Eighties, that criticism became a bit more direct, like it does during the last act of Cain and Abel.
The screenplay for Cain and Abel was by prolific writer Ricky Lee, who derived the basic framework for his story from the biblical account. Senora Pina (Mona Lisa) is the autocratic matriarch of an estate where her son Lorens (Phillip Salvador) labors while his brother Ellis (Christopher de Leon) receives an education in Manila. Senora Pina doesn’t approve of Ellis’ fiancee Zita (Carmi Martin), so she tries to bribe him away from her by letting him claim his inheritance to the estate. That launches a conflict between the two brothers which will lead to violence that spills over into the community at large.
Brocka keeps tight control over the various soap opera elements at play in Lee’s story, so Cain and Abel remains compelling as tragedy piles on top of tragedy, and the cycle of violence spirals out of control. That violence ultimately becomes representative of the class conflicts that were inherent in Filipino society under Marcos. It’s melodrama with a message, albeit an indirect one.
Cinematographer Conrado Baltazar shot Cain and Abel on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, likely framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release (more on that in a moment). All of the original elements appear to be lost, so this version comes from a scan of a print, as detailed in the restoration notes that precede the film:
This transfer of Cain and Abel originates from the sole extant 35 mm print held by the ABS-CBN film archives. The film was scanned on a Blackmagic Cintel scanner in 4K and restored in 2K at the Central Digital Lab in Manila in 2016. Although presented at the 1982 San Sebastian Film Festival in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, circumstantial and historical evidence indicates the film was released in the Philippines in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It is presented here as such. Due to the nature of the available element and limitations inherent to the restoration itself, some softness, warping and distortion is still apparent on the current transfer. Considering the film’s historical significance and the continuing importance of Sagip Pilikula, ABS-CBN’s ongoing restoration project, we have elected to release the film as it is on home video. Please approach the transfer with understanding and empathy.
That warping and distortion is immediately visible during the first scene, and while the severity varies, it’s present throughout the rest of the film. The restoration team used digital tools to stabilize what they could, which is usually the parts of the frame that weren’t in motion. As a result, the grain tends to be frozen in place in the background areas that surround the characters, while they still exhibit the warping effect. On the other hand, the colors look fine, with generally good contrast and black levels, though there’s severe black crush in some of the darkest scenes. The 1.85:1 framing does seem accurate, and it doesn’t appear to crop anything important off the top or the bottom of the frame. While the defects in this presentation are readily apparent, it really is the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. Cain and Abel is an important enough film that the transfer really does deserve a little empathy.
Audio is offered in Tagalog 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. With no other elements available, this has been derived from the optical tracks of the remaining print, so there’s a bit of background noise and distortion throughout. Otherwise, it’s generally clean, with the dialogue sounding clear, aside from a little excessive sibilance. The haunting synthesized score by Max Jocson also sounds clear.
Kani Releasing is a new label dedicated to advancing distribution of new and classic Asian cinema in North America. It’s a subsidiary of OCN Distribution, which is a sister company to Vinegar Syndrome. Their Blu-ray release of Cain and Abel on Blu-ray is packaged in a clear amaray case that displays a panoramic still on the reverse side of the insert, which is visible when the case is opened. It also includes a twenty-page booklet featuring an essay by Jose B. Capino, notes and annotations from Ricky Lee, archival materials, a biography of Lino Brocka, and restoration notes. There’s also an embossed slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 1,500 units, that features new artwork designed by Tony Stella. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- 2016 Restoration Trailer (1:03)
- Cain at Abel: An Appreciation (11:58)
- Interview with Christopher de Leon (16:03)
- Interview with Carmi Martin (13:13)
Cain at Abel: An Appreciation is a video essay by Capino, who is the author of the book Martial Law Melodrama: Lino Brocka’s Cinema Politics. Capino explains that while Brocka was known internationally for his gritty urban melodramas, he was equally popular in the Philippines for films involving higher social classes, just like Cain and Abel. Capino examines how the film was sold to the public during its release, the visual imagery used by Brocka (especially the compositions in depth), and the nature of the female characters. Combined with the essay in the included booklet, this forms a fine basic introduction to how Brocka worked.
Both of the Interviews were conducted via Zoom, and while both actors are speaking heavily accented English, there are non-removable English subtitles for clarity. Christopher de Leon and Carmi Martin give each of their backgrounds, describe working with Brocka (Martin refers to herself as “one of Lina Brocka’s babies”), the themes of Cain and Abel, and the importance of the restoration.
Cain and Abel is a film that may not be well-known outside of its native country, but it’s a significant one in the history of Filipino cinema, so it’s fantastic that Kani Releasing is bringing greater international exposure to it. The lack of better film elements is unfortunate, but one of the biggest tragedies in cinematic history is how many films have been completely lost to time, so at least this one still exists in an imperfect yet watchable form.
- Stephen Bjork