Year: 2002 // Grade: B-
The intrinsic aura of futility when looking at a film like this can strike fear in the eye of any non-filipino cinephile, for observations of philippine despotism and socio-political strife could be wry or authentic. It’s an arduous experience attempting to calculate which way the hammer is swinging, and there are few worse feelings than the voice that says maybe you aren’t getting the most out of this experience. Hesus Revolutionary depicts a so called sci-fi universe, but for an outsider without the historical knowledge this seems perplexing, for the only thing distinctly differing from a contemporary depiction are the dates which are a decade or two ahead of its release. Though this is ultimately the point—making for quite the mental revelation itself—even if slightly obscured for non-filipinos, Diaz is paralleling the obsolete and asinine political regimes of his country with the inferences that the past will eternally repeat itself onward into the future into complete dystopic spiritual bankruptcy. The horrific layout that never changes, forever promulgated by the complacency of the public hivemind, is Diaz’s primal gripe. Hesus Revolutionary is his first true iteration of its ugly head. Our hero is ping ponged back and forth from oppressors emanating the same level of fascism that they claim to abhor, lost not only in his own enraged head but in a sea of ignorant figureheads. Diaz’s intent is commendable, he’s moving in similar spaces to the infamous Haneke, clasping their paddles tightly with their eyebrows serious, intent to change minds and cinema.
Evolution of a Filipino Family
Year: 2004 // Grade: A-
Welcome back to stockholm syndrome with Lav Diaz, tonights hot topic, a ten hour evocation of Filipino underclass conflicts and an ever decreasing sense of individuality. Think “One Years of Solitude” with less Aureliano’s and far fewer words. Ostensibly the longest film I’ve ever tackled, at around 10 hours this daunting deity of somnolent terror is nothing to take lightly, though the hours will breeze by faster than one first imagines when looking at the time remaining with wide bloodshot eyes. This review is dedicated to the poor folks who tried to watch this at TIFF upon its release – “Was unconscionably scheduled with just one 10-minute intermission”. The first four or five hours nurture the aura of cosiness, the wind lulls and the water trickles and the adventures of their vestigial clan remain relatively half-hearted amidst occasional calamities. At this point the notion of making it through a near 10 hour film is in the rear-view mirror, fingernails now stuffed into the sofa cushions with eyes wide and hair blowing backwards, ready to see it all through til’ the very bitter end. As the cosiness uniquely begins to dissipate and the latent despair nonchalantly replaces it, the viewer can do nothing but ride into the endless darkness, because the only thing more insane than watching a ten hour film is quitting when you’re five hours into it
But for a ten hour tyrant routinely checking the clock is something that just doesn’t really happen, the first halfs tranquilizing comfort is all-encompassing despite the cloudy visuals and muted sounds, and humanities intrinsic fear of time running out helps nothing when trapped in the belly of a beast like this. It would be easy for a patently cold film to feel laborious and tedious, and often with these types of filmmakers (Diaz, Angelopoulos, Tarr) there is danger within their obstinacy, in creating an artful soporific affair there’s the jeopardy of leaving the viewer in an empty and frigid room feeling as if a mere observer rather than a shareholder, and so but this is never the case here, and rarely the case with Diaz as a whole, for a film that encompasses a never ending deluge of tumultuous rain it sure as hell feels warm. Ignorance to Filipino political regimes may hurt, though there is little majorly debilitating here, it may have the pernicious intent to lunge at the jugulars of socio-political problems under its skin, but its championing focus is unsurprisingly family.
Its impending collapse into a concoction of white noise and mangled frames is seemingly on the edge of the horizon at all times, as if paralleling the family itself, everything a looming implosion that threatens the fibre of every character on screen. The distorted aesthetic only adds to the experience, poverty as seen through a struggling lens and their emerging self-destruction seemingly placating each other. Filmed from ’96 to ’04 this is technically his first work, starting before the production of all else, which is an interesting fact, as its placid and obstinate pace isn’t prevalent within the other films he was making during this time, almost as if there are two distinct paths of a filmmaker happening here simultaneously, one jumping through commercial hoops to no avail and one doing whatever he damn well pleases, and my my my is the difference startling.
Diaz’s penchant for leaving major events largely unseen and unspoken of—within a film where time is truly no trouble—can make the picture a little more difficult to process. Where it’s silent and languid and becalmed and the inner-workings of its world aren’t quite axiomatically articulated you project a world; extrapolate something profoundly meaningful from the rubble it has created and let that become the film. Fecundity gone mad, even if the projected meaning is perpendicular to the films intent who cares about intent? The viewers are taken to the station and they all pick the trains, from a multitude of differing and contrasting trains, and each viewer hops on something different. “Our duty as storytellers is to bring people to the station. There each person will choose his or her own train…But we must at least take them to the station…to a point of departure.” — Federico Fellini. And this, I believe, is why Diaz is so successful with those who seek out his films. He’ll always take you to a station with a multitude of flying trains.
Heremias (Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess)
Year: 2006 // Grade: B+
In 2002 the director joked that his next feature—Heremias—was going to be forty hours long. The audience, with their eyes wide and bloodshot, didn’t for a minute think that Lav “I do whatever the fuck I want” Diaz was joking. Fortunately for the weak bladdered the runtime dwindled into the considerably less ten hours, for better or worse.
Torment begins on a desolate road, Diaz’s style promptly radiating from each carefully framed shot, as ox carts and their forever ambulating artisan workers steadily pace with them. Modernity and commercial filmmaking speed past them in the form of a van, Diaz in comparison saunters and lingers and ends the take long after the intrigue has left the sequence, leaving the viewers to search for answers elsewhere. Rolling from one end of the screen to the other takes the—ofttimes unjustified—superiority early on, forcing everyone with the faintest thought of leaving to do so right away, because Diaz will never let up. Majority dialogue during its first 3-4 hours occurs around the seemingly sporadic camp fires where the vagrants huddle around with the hopes that the sleep will take them sooner rather than later, the backdrop always remains the same: empty roads and cricket filled fields, sounds of wind and clouds of rain. Heremias splits from the group after a few hours (Displacement? Lonely in a crowd? The lost soul of the Filipino? Diaz doesn’t tell, only ask), stopping his reckless departure is a futile endeavor, mankinds volition is implacable.
The film really kicks into high gear once *it* happens and those turning it off within the first 3 hours are totally justified in doing, few will find its temerity endearing, but those who can brave the storm are always in for a casket overflowing with treasure. His screams and mumbles aren’t subtitled but then pure anguish doesn’t tend to need words and Lazaro’s performance is incredible enough to carry the entire emotion in his heartbroken movements. “This is my town, I don’t want to die here, but I’m still here”, one of the corruptibles murmurs, Diaz paints a realistic portrait of a country full of people perpetually begging for escape yet with the discouraging apathy to not do a single thing about it. Corruption and greed rule with those who carry the power, naturally, which only placates the constant feeling of helplessness in Heremias’ tumultuous journey towards any kind of justice for him and his people. One can only hope that the Lizard Princess will smite them all punctually, but there is no sign that help will come from elsewhere to save him. Heremias scuffs his heels and drags his feet, lost and hopeless, forsaken and heartbroken, his face emits incessant sadness, Lazaro’s intense facial performance does not abate for even a millisecond. Part 8—there are 10 parts an hour each—is an hour long Merzbow-esque noise rendition over the backdrop of virulent stoned teenagers destroying property and shit-talking eachother as Heremias looks on in consternation, you can’t make this stuff up, and the entirety of it is almost wholly unjustified and needlessly elongated, yet weirdly inviting. One things for sure, Heremias ain’t never drinking again. In the climax we are witness to the slow walk of Heremias again, but this time, it’s in the opposite direction.
Undeniably the slowest offering of Diaz so far, but can a film even be laborious when it’s so soporifically fluid? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Previously Diaz could be seen spacing out his grand tragedies and melodrama and ethnologic altercations with prolonged sequences of silence and ambiance, intermittently shifting the atmosphere to one of tranquility and stillness, here, the prolonged sauntering make for the main bulk of its total and narrative shifts accompany very little. Diaz has maximized himself here, this is closer to a 13 Lakes than it is to a Batang West Side in for a good half of its runtime. This ultimately lends the film a feeling of being minor whilst its gleaming moments scream the opposite, though collectively with Part Two—which Diaz has promised, though at this time it has not entered pre-production—this might likely cease to be the case either way. Diaz’s films are a great hangover cure, with the added bonus that his works will last much longer than the hangover possibly could survive. And but so within the ten hour spectacle one can’t help but feel there would be a concise magnificent work here if it were trimmed to around the five or six hour mark, then there might be a film here I could call “Instant Favorite”.
Death in the Land of Encantos
Year: 2007 // Grade: A-
A desolate landscape of misplaced rocks and inexorable sand is immediately evident, Diaz’s forlorn aesthetic instantaneously palpable, ceaseless rain and flurries of vicious wind are all that inhabit the long forgotten terrain. Tropical trees look far from tropical in their lonesome land of uprooted rubble, instead seeming as if they were the last living things on the planet as the ghosts that once lived there ambulate around the rubble longingly, a constant storm wages and a dark wind blows. A man weeps solemnly on his porch at the forefront of the carnage, Diaz’s rigorous b/w camera style only adds to the destructive aura. Three friends meet among the broken village carcasses, the macabre unmistakable, their incapability to do anything to stop it evident on their faces throughout. “Listen carefully, you will hear the wailing of those buried underneath”. The three of them spurn off a multitude of lengthy dialogues, of their past, their uncertain future, their families, their unwavering philosophies, their struggles. Many of these dialogues last the length of the average Hollywood film, many soporific shots of the landscape do too, but that’s all in the Diaz game and you better have known what you were doing when you clicked play.
Documentation is eerily well spliced with fiction, fictionalized reality, the documented segments are of real survivors interviewed by Diaz himself, standing at the forefront of their recently annihilated homes and livelihoods recanting poignant tales of the horrific catastrophes that has perpetually rained down upon their land from the heavens. The lines between fiction and reality are truly blurred though the film never feels as if its jumping back and forth from one to the other, everything is so alarmingly fluid like two rivers agreeably coalescing. “well, imaginary things that affirm the truth…” Dreams and nightmares and visions of the past are intermittently scattered throughout, past loves, lost loves, childhood traumas, mostly adolescent traumas. Fluency with both reality and fiction is one thing, but it also encompasses its fluidity through a rampant cinéma vérité, thrusting the viewer right into the heart and head of the calamity. I guess it could come across as offensive that aspects of this tumult actually begin to feel quite comfy. “Wish you had a cellphone so we could become textmates”
The poet is ostensibly Diaz’s stand in, he’s admonishingly told he may only teach the arts and to never actively move politically, only work within the boundaries his superiors give him (remind you of anyone?), yet Diaz’s art running in parallel, Encatos, inherently proliferates political ideologies and moves to endure the soul of his people. He can’t help it, and trying to hinder him just makes him madder. Here both character and man present an eternal struggle with oppression and art. Just like the Philippines, the poet too is collapsing in on himself powerless to stop his self-destruction as his friends look helplessly on, the venomous apathy of Diaz’s oeuvre rears its ugly head once more. The poet is tortured, torturing himself, calling himself out, relishing the knife that is stabbed unto his own chest, it’s all equal parts fascinating and terrifying. “Its not true that I love my country, I hate my country, because of the unbearable sorrow that she gives me.”
Oh, and it’s eight hours long.
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