The omnipresent rain functions like a wall of sound in the four-and-a-half hour film, such that we had to listen closely to determine where the downpour really was coming from, the soundtrack or outside the Cultural Center, where it was opening film in the Cinemalaya during one such rainy night.
Computer graphics by Igan D’bayan
Ostrich years
ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2019 - 12:00am

The lesbian scenes in Lav Diaz’s ‘Ang Hupa’ at Cinemalaya are tastefully done in a tantalizing maze of bodies blending with shadow and light, and you begin to wonder which body part belongs to whose pretty face.

There’s a scene in Lav Diaz’s latest film Ang Hupa (The Halt) that has the once and future despot Nirvano Navarra (Joel Lamangan) talking to an ostrich, part of a personal bestiary, and asking the bird known for burying its head: if it doesn’t get lonely, would it want a partner? This occurs toward the end, when things in our sad republic start to unravel, and could be a parable for our time: we struggle to get a word in edgewise, before burying our heads in sand again.

The omnipresent rain functions like a wall of sound in the four-and-a-half hour film, such that we had to listen closely to determine where the downpour really was coming from, the soundtrack or outside the Cultural Center, where it was opening film in the Cinemalaya during one such rainy night.

Aside from the rain, which has quite a palpable presence, almost like a separate character, Ang Hupa, like previous films of the director, pushes the envelope: there are notable scenes of lesbian sex, preceded by one’s tortuous fit of contortions as if the body’s closeness to another is all that is necessary to becalm it.

And though it is Piolo Pascual who appears in the movie poster, it is as much his film, in the role of resistance fighter Hook Torollo, as it is Lamangan’s, or the dictator’s close-in security Martha Officio (Hazel Orencio) and Marissa Ventura (Mara Lopez), as well the professor Jean Hadoro (Pinky Amador) whose book A Nation Without Memory is trampled underfoot by Nirv, or the ingénue Haminilda Rios aka Model 37 (Shaina Magdayao), moving the narrative forward from different angles, like encircling the cities of the future and wondering if these may still be redeemed from the post-apocalyptic dark.

The opening is already quite auspicious, with Torollo looking out from the upper floors of a building to a Black Nazarene-like throng below waving white handkerchiefs, heralding the varied possibilities of our respective damnations.

Torollo is a former close-in guard of the dictator and departed member of rock band the Blind Bougainvilleas, and suffers from a creeping blindness, which condition he confides to Father Mendez (Noel Miralles), who says the clinical term is good title for a novel or name of a rock band.

Lamangan’s portrayal of Navarra develops from caricature to parody, then from grotesquerie to downright bathos, with obvious similarities to the present Palace occupant: the promise for true change, having Marcos as an idol (“the greatest”), taking various medication with side effects that are frightening, hatred of foreign media, closeness to his mom confined in mental hospital. At least Navarra makes mention of Rainier Maria Rilke as he scolds a reporter for not knowing the author of “Duino Elegies,” where he relates the time God talked to him, as He did to Rilke for the elegies’ inspiration. He also visits his mother (Susan Africa) in the mental ward, because every despot has a soft spot for mom.

The lesbian scenes between Lopez and Orencio, and between Magdayao and Lopez are tastefully done in a tantalizing maze of bodies blending with shadow and light, and you begin to wonder which body part belongs to whose pretty face in the name of art both tender and ruthless.

There are fabled digressions and subplots to spice up proceedings like jazz improvisation, to rescue the movie from the hovering pit of excess — the episode of the blood drinking cult which Hami Rios joins, punctuated by a memorable one-liner from her recruiter who happens to be a butcher in a slaughterhouse: “Drinking blood is an ideology.” Or the intermission number of the Blind Bougainvilleas led by Django (Ely Buendia), whose members come from Buendia’s past and present bands, and the telling verse: you can’t go back from where you came.

A Diaz work would not be complete without a tableau of conversation, this time among the resistance fighters including Torollo and presided over by cell leader played by Joel Saracho. Over a bottle of wine, Torollo tells his comrades that he is opting out of the movement, deciding instead to help street kids who are the direct victims of society’s inequities. Sergeant Reiner (Saracho) can only refer to John Lennon when he first heard George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord: for a moment there I almost believed there was a god.

Apart from the nod to Mad Max and Flash Gordon in the rather crude depiction or is it refraction of the future complete with ID checking drones, there is suspension of disbelief in one sequence near the end, when Model 37 returns the ID of a man (Earl Ignacio) whom she thought was extra-judicially executed to the man’s family. The family welcomes this and some proffered largesse as well, even as news of the inevitable fall of the deranged on TV interrupts regular programing, the dialogue from Batang West Side particularly how shabu and karaoke would be the future of the Philippines.

The mistakenly dead listening to the news during a break in the movie, while among us perhaps sit the semi-departed watching Ang Hupa with the unconscious hope of a similar bulletin in the present day, as the rain inundates the city outside surfacing the offal in sewers.

ANG HUPA CINEMALAYA
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