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The Rites of May (Itim)

The first feature by Mike de Leon (producer and cinematographer of Manila: In the Claws of Darkness), The Rites of May is a striking, supernatural thriller that blends psychological realism with the occult: against a backdrop dominated by Catholic imagery, the story follows two young people who are guided by inherited guilt and haunted by unnamed fears. A young photographer returns to his small-town home during Holy Week to visit his father, a doctor who is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. While photographing the local rituals, he becomes fascinated by a strange young woman; only after they become romantically involved does he learn that she believes herself to be possessed by her dead sister's spirit. In piecing together the events surrounding the sister's death, he discovers links between himself, his father and the tragedy. The film, as British critic Tony Rayns notes, “established de Leon overnight and set new technical standards for Filipino cinema.” De Leon's feel for the camera is evident throughout: elegant tracking shots recall Max Ophuls as they wander through the atmospheric halls of the doctor's country manor, then move outdoors to capture the vivid, oppressive presence of the jungle, with its suggestion of inescapable entanglements.

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