Lav Diaz and the great ‘desaparecido’

ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2015 - 10:00am

If a person has spent considerable enough time on a chosen craft then sooner or later one disappears into it, as a teacher does into a classroom, or a newsman into a newsroom. No ifs, ands or buts, to aspire for invisibility is eventually a striving to be indivisible, or as Elvis Costello once sang: “I want to vanish.”

Granted, readers may already be up to here hearing about the length of Lav Diaz’s films, as if it were a phallic taboo, or perhaps the editor is an anachronistic luxury time has passed by. Whatever, when apprised that the 2014 epic Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (From what was before) is around five-and-a-half hours long, the layman would just as well yawn, stretch his arms a bit, and perhaps best prepare himself for the experience at hand.

The movie was on Vimeo for a while before it was taken down, or maybe it is still there; we don’t know. The discourse continues in discreet ways and other cyber margins of the retractable mind. The camera, Lav’s camera, forever lying in ambush, behind a bush of ghosts, waiting for a chance to pounce at the unsuspecting viewer in those long tracking shots, where a speck of a figure in the horizon gradually comes into view.

Forget slow cinema, Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon is in the quick a series of admirably hypnotic tableaus that linger in the imagination, not unlike a moving print. There is little not to marvel at in the scene of the grieving woman seer whose son has been murdered presumably by state forces, a chant that carries the day in the manner of the Last Supper. Then there is the actress Mailes Kanapi who very well steals thunder every time she is on screen, in strategic spots like a gentle demon reminding that to nod off might put the viewer at risk.

To sleep, perchance to dream, at your own risk and hazard to health. In the various write-ups that have come out on Lav, one of the more memorable was that which said his was a kind of organic cinema. Meaning, he gets the elements to work for him. This is self-evident in the entire oeuvre of the director, how he makes film literally grow into its own, to inhabit the various spaces in the imagined storylines of the persevering audience.

For there is no other way the cinemagoer can approach this, except through a key of languid patience. But the rewards, it cannot be gainsaid, are immeasurable for the steadfast viewer, because cinema cannot be other than a gentle unfolding, a striptease surreal of the subconscious. 

It is by no means happenstance that the best shots and sounds of rain and fire, that timeless smoky juxtaposition of images are best captured and conveyed by the director’s patient camera. The guerrilla at work again, disappearing into the bushes of the freeze-framed mind.

Another work which came out at about the same time post- Yolanda was Mga Anak ng Unos (Children of the storm) that is mostly a silent documentary depicting, as the title suggests, kids trying to earn a semblance of a living in a squalid water world not of their making. There are shots of a pair of boys digging through debris after a storm, of a ship washed ashore still on land under the sunlight and beside daily commerce months after the super typhoon has passed. Found footage of floods under the LRT on Taft Avenue, with a limping dog, garbage all around, and the water seeking its own level into the clogged sewers.

And as kids are wont to do, them diving from the beached ship into the precariously shifting depths, though rest assured this is high tide. Though occasionally one may feel stranded watching a Lav film, there is always an aspect of Buddha in the proceedings. That is, it is wise if not prudent not to get too attached.

Latest word is that the director has employed the services of mainstream fixtures Piolo Pascual and John Lloyd Cruz for his latest work produced by Paul Soriano. On a national hero as great desaparecido: has the epic spirit sold out? If true that running time of the new is a good four hours, then the vanishing wins again.

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Widely acknowledged for bringing the singular highest honor ever accorded to Philippine Cinema in its Golden Leopard prize win at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival, Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon, Lav Diaz’s martial law epic, will have a special commercial run at the Shang Cineplex from Aug. 12 to 18. Presented by the Film development Council of the Philippines and Sine Olivia Pilipinas, in partnership with the Shang Cineplex, the commercial run gives Filipino cineastes another chance to catch the highly acclaimed film.

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