Lav Diaz


(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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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), inspired by Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment",

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

The four-hour Ang Babaeng Humayo/ The Woman Who Left (2016), shot in a black and white and inspired by Tolstoy's short story "God Sees the Truth but Waits" (with a woman replacing Tolstoy's merchant), is a fresco of outcasts who are lonely, strugling to make ends meet, forsaken by society: the former convict, the hunchback, the epileptic, the madwoman, the cripple. They are forgotten by a society that mainly caters to the rich, including the priests. Meanwhile the media are concerned with the kidnappings of rich people, not with the plight of poor people. Her personality is split in two: on one hand, she is the saint who helps every desperate person, as if she couldn't resist an overflowing maternal instinct (which one could relate to having lost her son). But on the other hand it is clear that there is a cold and cynical design behind her selection of whom to help: they are all someone in possession of knowledge about the whereabouts and habits of the man she wants to kill. She is both a warm caring saint and a cold avenging machine. The long takes dilate the narrative but do not distort it like in previous films, and this is therefore Diaz's most linear and straightfoward work yet.

It is 1997 and the radio is talking about Hong Kong being returned by Britain to China and of an exodus of ethnic Chinese from the Philippines due to a rise in kidnappings. Female convicts work like slaves in the fields, controlled by gunmen. After work one of them, Horacia, teaches the others grammar and science. Horacia is much loved by the other female convicts. Before sleeping in the common dorm, they pray. Horacia keeps a diary. One day the warden asks to talk to Horacia. Her friend and fellow prisoner Petra confessed to the killing for which Horacia was sent to jail 30 years earlier: Horacia is free. The warden is really sorry, almost like a friend. Horacia walks all the way to the nearby town and takes a bus to her old hometown. She meets after so many years the caretaker, Patria, who informs her that her daughter Minerva moved to the big city and her son Junior disappeared, and Minerva is looking for him. She also informs her that her husband Redentor died. When she is alone, Horacia crouches and weeps. Horacia authorizes Patria to sell the land and start a new life. Horacia takes the bus to the city and finds her daughter. Horacia tells Minerva that a rich and powerful man, Rodrigo, is the one who ordered the killing and framed her: he was jealous because she had decided to marry a different man, Minerva's father Redentor. Rodrigo paid Petra to commit the murder and then blame Horacia. Petra has committed suicide right after Horacia was released. Horacia has decided to press no charges against Rodrigo. Minerva apologizes that she never visited her in jail. Horacia wants Minerva to keep it secret that she is free, don't even tell her husband. Minerva was just 7 when Horacia was jailed. Horacia takes a ferry to Rodrigo's town. She has no place to sleep. At night, dressed like a man, she befriends a poor hunchbacked balut seller who has bee ninside Rodrigos' house. All the rich people are surrounded by security guards for fear of kidnappings. The poor seller believes in God even if God has been unfair to him. He calls her Renata. In the middle of night they spot a woman, wearing high-heeled shoes, dancing by herself in the street and then collapsing to the ground. Horacia rushes to help her. The woman is epileptic. Horacia gives her a little money. Horacia sleeps on the benches of a foodstall and of a church. She meets the crazy Mameng, also homeless, and follows her to her shack. Mameng knows all the people who go to mass, and has seen Rodrigo many times sit in the same place at the same time. At night, dressed again like a man, Horacia/Renata hangs out with the balut seller. He has four children and a wife. He was in jail, raped, reduced to a sex slave. The high-heeled girl appears again, smoking and dancing. The balut seller laughs. In the morning Horacia is back at Nena's foodstall. Nena works hard at her tiny restaurant, but is hampered by a bad leg that causes evident limping. One night, while the balut seller is napping, Rodrigo in person comes to buy a balut. The seller is shocked to see him in the street. He tells Horacia. On sunday she attends mass in the cathedral. The priest laments the epidemics of kidnappings that particularly arget the Filipino-Chinese community. Rodrigo is escorted in and out. At night even the balut seller discusses the kidnappings, some of which happen in broad daylight in public spaces. Horacia calls Minerva and learns that her son has died in the slums Minerva is devastated. Horacia joins her at the morgue to identify the body, but the body is of someone else. Junior is still alive. The crazy Mameng visits Horacia, whom she calls Leticia. Horacia washes the filthy beggar. During the day Horacia dresses like a veiled and elegant worshipper and enters the church while Rodrigo is with children and grandchildren. He sees her but she runs away in time to avoid him. Horacia now owns limping Nena's eatery. Nena calls her Renata and encourages her to expand the business. Horacia doesn't seem interested in money. At night the balut seller is sitting silent and grumpy. His youngest son is sick but he has no money to take him to the hospital. Horacia/Renata gives him the money and he cries like a baby. In return she asks him for a gun, knowing that the old man knows people in the black market. After purchasing the gun, she practices at home, but she is revulsed by the idea of shooting. Mameng shows up to warn Leticia/ Horacia that there are demons, and then runs away scared. The epiletic knocks at her door. She's having seizures. Horacia calls the doctor. The epileptic in reality is a "him", the transgender prostitute Hollanda. He was raped and beaten. He has no family. The veiled Horacia is still stalking Rodrigo at the church. He confesses to the priest that he hurt a lot of people. He would like to find God but the priest replies that he can only be his guide. One night Horacia beats almost to death a woman who is harming some other women: she is not as nice and peaceful as she looks most of the time. Horacia calls washes the wounds of Hollanda, including the horrible wound in the anus. Hollanda wants to die. S/he is just a burden to his family. Horacia takes care of her like a mother and eventually helps Hollanda walk again. They hear the news that Mother Theresa died. One night the balut seller tell Horacia how his father was killed in the street where he now sells. He still remembers their faces and he is just waiting for the time he meets them again. Horacia still writes her diary, or what sounds like a novel. Hollanda, healed, sings happily around the house. They drink together. Now it's Horacia who has to make a confession to Hollanda: that she is a former convict. Hollanda already knows: she found Petra's confession in Horacia's papers. Horacia is furious that Hollanda messed with her papers. Horacia even grabs the gun and points it at Hollanda's head. Then she calms down and tells Hollanda that Rodrigo was the mastermind. In fact, Horacia confesses that Holland indirectly prevented a murder: Horacia was on her way to kill Rodrigo when Holland showed up wounded. Horacia falls asleep. When she wakes up, Hollanda is gone. Horacia walks to the beach where Hollanda's friends are having fun, and inquires about her but they make fun of the transvenstite. The balut seller tells Horacia that Hollanda has killed Rodrigo. Hollanda is in police custody. A free lawyer is assigned to her. The 36-year-old Hollanda confesses that she did it out of gratitude. Poor people protest against the government's decision to demolish their shacks. Horacia walks in the rain to a place where other people are taking shelter. She tells them a lengthy story (presumably that one that she has been writing), and bids goodbye. Some time later, she is walking around a filthy neighborhood of the capital. She is posting everywhere flyers about her son. The street is littered with them all the way to the church. Horacia, who now looks insane, circles around the flyers lying on the street.

The eight-hour Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis/ A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (2016)

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )