So someone emails me claiming to be from the International Herald Tribune, whatever that is, with a few questions. So I answered. So whoever it is emailed me back saying the deadline's passed, and she couldn't use my comments (Waitaminute--she emails me on Friday and was hoping I'd answer that night? What's she thinking, that I live in front of this PC? Never mind...).
So--waste not, want not. Pity about that Herald Tribune whatever, but that's the story of Philippine cinema--always with the lousy timing.
From: "Lim Li Min"
Subject: Lav Diaz in International Herald Tribune
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 05:32:40 +0000
I am a Bangkok-based freelance journalist writing a piece on Lav Diaz's Evolution for the International Herald Tribune.
I wanted to ask your opinion about Lav Diaz and the Filipino film industry in general, and was wondering if you would care to pen a few lines in response to the questions below. Or, if you would prefer, I can call you, so please give a number I can reach you at.
If it is not possible for you to comment, no worries. Many thanks anyway.
Please find below the said questions:
1. In what way does Evolution contribute to Filipino cinema?
Any number of ways, aside from stretching the definition of a Filipino film's length (it's outright the longest Southeast Asian film ever made, and arguably the longest Asian film ever made meant to be seen in a single sitting--Kobayashi's The Human Condition is really three 3-hour films, while the 27 hour Burning of the Red Lotus Temple is really meant to be seen in instalments, over a period of around two weeks).
Lav has stretched the possibilites of video and black-and-white cinematography in Filipino filmmaking. He is a practitioner of what has been called "The Cinema of Contemplation" (and which I in my less generous moments like to call "The Cinema of the Comatose"), of which Andrei Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Theo Angelopolous and recently Gus Van Sant are some of the most prominent practitioners. And where most Filipino filmmakers, even Lino Brocka, focus on the particulars of a set of characters and their circumstances, Lav ponders the broader socio-political implications of his stories--the relationship of, say, the declaration of Martial Law to the lives of farmers in the countryside.
2. What does it say about Filipino society and the political state of affairs (during the Marcos years and at present)?
Lav in an interview said Ebolusyon was a (freely paraphrasing here) look at the causes that gave rise to his previous film, Batang West Side" (West Side Avenue), a five-hour examination of a Filipino American community in New Jersey. You can see what he means--the film in its historical footage basically tells the story of the Filipino people from the Martial Law days to shortly after the fall of Marcos (though there is no explanation of what footage depicts which event, or even much of an attempt to keep it chronological--as Lav puts it, it's the characters' recollection of historical events, not a historically accurate exposition of said events).
We trace history from Marcos' television announcement of Martial Law to the assassination of Ninoy Aquino to the first EDSA revolt to the massacre of farmers at Mendiola Bridge, with maybe footage of one of the many coup d'etats staged against Cory Aquino inserted in there along the way. Maybe the only explication that helps tie these sequences together and gives them historical and political perspective are the scenes of Lino Brocka being interviewed on the radio (nice twist here--Lav has iconoclast film critic Gino Dormiendo plays filmmaker Brocka, while filmmaker Quark Henares plays interviewing film critic Agustin Sotto); ironically, the people listening to the radio interview turn the dial to listen to yet another endless soap opera. That, for me, is a more trenchant comment on the prevalent popular attitude towards politics and the art of filmmaking than Lav's later conceit--that Brocka grows so dangerous that he becomes the target of an assassination attempt. It's a nice conceit, tho it made me raise an eyebrow; I'd like to think it might have been true.
Perhaps Lav's greatest achievement in this film isn't so much the historical footage or the politically charged statements made by his Brocka, but the beautifuly immersive sequences depicting life in the Filipino countryside. It flows to a different rhythm, has an altogether different sensibility and set of values, and I think Lav's film captures this better than any Filipino film--or any film I can think of, for that matter--that I know. That the people are almost totally unsympathetic to the happenings in Manila and Malacanang Palace, even if it affects their lives, that many of them would rather listen to radio soaps about outrageously melodramatic lives--that's a brave, brilliant observation to make. If enough people see the film it would probably provoke both the left AND the right.
3. What state is Filipino cinema currently in and why? Are there any directors, beides Diaz, whose work excites you?
Near comatose. Production has gone down to less than fifty a year, where in the late '90s it was over a hundred to a hundred and fifty--some years even higher than Hong Kong. Hollywood films have taken over the boxoffice, and producers have been too timid to try anything really new.
That said, there's a growing independent film movement--Khavn de la Cruz, Mes de Guzman, Ditsy Carolino, Tad Ermitano, Aureaus Solito and Regiben Romanoare among the many I can think of doing good work out there. Lav Diaz, of course, stands as a titan in that field with the ten-hour Ebolusyon and the five-hour Batang West Side (for my money his best work to date), but there's also Raymond Red, the only Filipino to win a Palme d'or from Cannes (for his short Anino (Shadow)).
Of mainstream filmmakers, Lav has done not inconsiderable commercial feature films, none of which have made money, but are worth seeing. Among others' there's his first, Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion (Criminal of Barrio Concepcion), and Hesus Rebolusyonaryo (Hesus the Revolutionary, a science fiction dystopia set eleven years into the future).
Then there are the old guard--Tikoy Aguiluz, who debuted in the early '80s, does excellent realist dramas; his best include Boatman, Segurista (Dead Sure), and Bagong Bayani (The Last Wish, a docudrama about overseas workers). Mike De Leon, a contemporary of Brocka, did the brilliant Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero), a deconstruction of the life of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal. And Mario O'Hara, former Brocka collaborator, has done great work--Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof--an elegy to the Filipino film industry), Sisa (an almost insanely imaginative take on Jose Rizal), and Pangarap ng Puso (Demons--my vote for the best Filipino film in years). His Babae sa Breakwater (Woman of the Breakwater) went to last years' Cannes Directors' Fortnight, the first Filipino feature to do so in fifteen years.
Hope this suffices.