Lav Diaz

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

, /10

Lav Diaz (Philippines, 1958) began with three films of standard duration: Serafin Geronimo - Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion/ The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion (1998), Burger Boys (1999) and Hubad sa Ilalim ng Buwan/ Naked Under the Moon (1999).

Starting with the five-hour long Batang West Side (2001), possibly his masterpiece, he began to specialize in the epic-length format.

The two-hour political/science fantasy Hesus Rebolusyunaryo/ Jesus Revolutionary (2002)

Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino/ Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004), another peak of his art, more than eleven hours long,

Heremias (2006) is a nine-hour film.

Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga engkanto/ Death in the Land of Encantos (2007)

Melancholia (2008), seven hours and a half,

Florentina Hubaldo (2012) is six-hours long.

Siglo ng Pagluluwal/ Century of Birthing (2011) is six-hours long. It weaves together two stories, one about a filmmaker who can't finish his film and one about the women of a cult who are meant to remain virgin forever. The two stories seem allegories that complement each other, pitting the fanatical creative process of the filmmaker against the fanatical spiritual quest of the cult virgins. Each cannot fulfill himself/herself. Only towards the end do the two threads intersect and merge, a meeting between the protagonist of the first story, who has lost existential faith, and the protagonist of the second story, a cult member who has gone mad after being deprived of her faith. The film that Homer is making, meanwhile, becomes a third story in itself, the story of a woman who wants to lose her faith, and a story somehow mirroring the main story: there are two rapes, one in the film (in the second story, the one about the cult) and one in the film within the film (the renegade nun), and two self-mutilations (probably both to abort a fetus), one in the film (in the first story, the one about the filmmaker) and one in the film within the film (the same renegade nun). There are other characters that are barely sketched but are potentially additional allegories: the poetess who preaches Homer but then is shown to be a bad guilt-ridden daughter, and the cult founder, who turns out to be a psycho out of an expressionist drama or a Brian DePalma horror movie. Incidentally, the effect of viewing the film being edited on the filmmaker's computer is to hint that reality might be just a computer simulation gone atray.
There are a few spectacular shots (notably the one of the caravan crossing the river) counterbalanced by some totally redundant scenes (a long take in which we see the actress trying to memorize the script). It could have easily trimmed down to less than three hours and it would have been a great film.

Father Tiburcio leads a religious sect in the tropical countryside. Most of his followers are young women. They pray in a river. A long-haired man is working in his studio while it is raining outside. A woman walks barefoot in the grass and stair at the nearby river. She finds something. A woman who pretended to a stranger to be a writer admits that she is a nun who left the convent to experience the real world, and then asks him as a favor to take her virginity. The long-haired man, obviously a filmmaker, speaks on the phone in English with a distributor, telling him that he refuses to compromise, that he doesn't make films for festivals. Then he chats with a spectacled woman, Anna, who works in a call center and has just been promoted. They are both fed up with their lives. A woman from the religious cult plays the guitar and girls sing a religious hymn. A young well-dressed tourist is taking photos in the fields. He spots the woman and the girls washing clothes by the river and starts photographing them. They don't reply to his greeting and walk away. He follows them until the older woman tells him to get lost. In a small room a shaved-head man with the tattoo of a man on his belly is exercising strenuously. A girl with an umbrella is walking in the rain, we hear no sound and the scene is blurred. A demented woman recites a poem in a mummy voice through a glass window to the filmmaker who was working on his computer, her slow voice mixing with the loud sound of heavy rain and with the erratic noise of traffic. The filmmaker patiently listens (a 17-minute take). When she is done, he bursts out laughing at his old friend Remedios. Then he opens the gate to her, who comes in to talk about the typhoon but also to scold Homer for making his own life miserable. Likewise, the spectacled woman reads an article in English to Homer about art and commerce that demystifies the former. The photographer tracks down the five women, who are now sitting around a table. A man (apparently the only male member of the cult) catches him spying the girls, interrogates him about his motives, and educates him about the virtues of Father Tiburcio. An interviewer asks the filmmaker "What is cinema?" Homer quotes Heidegger (that is the nature of being?) while airplans fly over their head. We finally see Homer editing his film on the computer and we realize that it is the story of the nun who left the convent (always shown in a smaller screen). The protagonist, Sister Angela, while chatting with a man who sounds like a psychologist, admits that she is confused. A flashback (in Homer's film) shows Angela as a little girl in the countryside, watching a caravan crossing a river under a cloudy sky. Her narrating voice tells of the mountain tribes coming to the urban markets with their goods. The film's actress Angel argues with Homer because it has been three years and Homer still refuses to declare the film finished. Also revealing is a dream he has of his grandmother holding him when he was still a child and telling him (looking straight into the camera) that he is still a child. Next, we see Homer editing a scene in which Angela visits a monastery in an island. The tattooed man with a shaved head is in Homer's movie too: he is the man who has sex with Angel in a bathroom. He is an ex-convict and tells her of (male) rape and violence in prison. Then in the street she meets masked men who enjoy scaring her. Remedios travels by boat to a distant island to visit her mother who is paralyzed. Remedios takes her on a wheelchair to stare at the sea. The eldest virgin of the cult discovers the photos that the photographer has been taking. The photographer finds her in the house and brutally rapes her, and then tells her he did it for her own good, to release her from the power of Father Tiburcio: she is not a virgin anymore and won't be accepted in the cult anymore. He has investigated the charlatan and explains to her that Father Tiburcio is nothing but a mad actor turned new-age fundamentalist. And the photographer thinks that all fundamentalists are dangerous to society. The photographer, far from being a hapless tourist, has come there with a political mission. In the film within the film the convict tells Angela how he raped and killed the woman he loved. The raped sister returns to the sect compound but the father (whom we have seen applying lipstick to his lips and powder to his cheek before wearing a wig) is not willing to make an exception for her: only virgins can live there. She begs in vain. But then, after she leaves, the father starts sobbing, and eventually he kills himself. The woman, meanwhile, is climbing the stairs that lead to the top of a hill where a statue overlooks the sea. She cries, prays and stares at the view. Then she walks back to town in the dark, with no place to go. Everybody goes to sleep except her: she keeps walking around the deserted streets. By morning she is behaving like a madwoman. In Homer's film the convict is captured and tortured to death (hanging upside down from the ceiling), presumably by the husband of the woman he raped and killed. Meanwhile (still in Homer's film) the townfolks walk in a procession carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary, and Angela crawls on her knees to the altar of a church. In Homer's film Angela mutilates herself (possibly an abortion) while watching herself naked in the mirror. Homer meets Anna in a square and tells her the plot of his film: the nun and the convict meet on an island during the Moriones festival. Anna misses her parents and her siblings, her life is all work and she's tired of it. She wants to get away. After parting from her, Homer drinks and walks around the same deserted streets that the raped virgin explored after being dismissed from the compound. Anna and Homer leave town. Homer soon finds out the real reason why Anna wants to leave: in the morning he finds her unconscious because she has practiced a rudimentary abortion and lost a lot of blood. Homer barely makes it to the hospital in time to save her life. Homer visits the countryside, curious about the life of farmers, and there he meets the barefoot madwoman, who is dancing and playing by herself in the middle of nowhere. Initially, Homer ignores her but then he seems fascinated by her madness and starts following her in the fields as if he had found his prophet.

Another monolith, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan/ Norte the End of History (2013),

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon/ From What Is Before (2014)

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )