Film Notes
by Pablo A. Tariman

Loud cheers and a rousing standing ovation greeted the screening of the Philippine entry “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” by Lav Diaz in the 66th Berlin International Film Festival Thursday night (February 18) at the 1,600-seater Berlinale Palast.

The cast of the Lav Diaz film after the Berlin screening. The feedback was highly positive.

The cast of the Lav Diaz film after the Berlin screening. The feedback was highly positive.

Contacted by Philippine Star after a long night and still catching up with sleep, actress Cherie Gil said she was stunned by the reception. “Oh my. There is so much to say. Happily, the feedback is highly positive and we are all waiting with bated breath for the result of the awards night happening in 24 hours. I just got word the Philippine entry is a strong contender and the critics are very positive.”

The Filipino film is among the 19 entries competing for the top Golden Bear Prize Saturday night (February 20).

Actor Joel Saracho felt the same. “The reception was just overwhelming. Talagang grabe. Let me collect myself first before I answer the rest of your questions.”

The longest entry in the festival, the Lav Diaz film took all of eight hours to watch with only a 45-minute lunch break for cineastes coming from all over the world. It started at 9:30 a.m. and ended shortly before 7 p.m. with more than half of the people in the theater still around.

The only member of the cast who got only three hours of sleep and raring to answer questions was actor Bernardo Bernardo who was also carried away by the positive reception.

From his Movenpick Hotel, Bernardo gushed: “With only three hours of sleep, I am still smiling. I can’t help it. The reviews have come out mostly in German and Italian but from what I heard, they were quite positive. I just heard that the members of the jury (headed by actress Meryl Streep) watched the film in an isolated area at the balcony of the theater. Now I can finally say I breathed the same air as Meryl Streep and Clive Owens that triumphant night.”

In the Berlin delegation headed by Diaz were John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Bernardo Bernardo, Cherie Gil, Angel Aquino, Joel Saracho and executive producer Paul Soriano, among others.

Director Lav Diaz during the presscon: he protested the label 'slow cinema' in his output.

Director Lav Diaz during the presscon: he protested the label ‘slow cinema’ in his output.

Recounted Bernardo: “It was a long day for the Philippine delegation that started with a precisely-timed arrival of our limousine convoy at the Berlinale Palast for our red carpet walk under a sunny but below three- degree weather at 9:00 am. Bravely, Lav Diaz, Paul Soriano and I wore the Pilipino barong. Piolo Pascual and John Lloyd Cruz were dapper (and warm) in their tuxedos and so was Joel Saracho who swore a gray suit. The courageous fashion statements of the Pinoy gentlemen were nothing compared to the cold-defying, bare shouldered, glamorous true fashionistas in high heels: Alessandra de Rossi, Cherie Gil, Angel Aquino, Hazel Orencio, Susan Africa, Queenmelo Esguerra and Bianca Balbuena.”

Bernardo added the “Hele” Team was met by journalists and fans of the film with a phalanx of cameras beyond the velvet ropes as their cheerful images were simultaneously flashed on a huge screen near the theater foyer. “For me, it was the closest thing to a Hollywood premiere! Inside the theater, Lav Diaz and the Hele ensemble autographed blow-ups of our photos taken the night before that were now prominently displayed at the theater lobby. Everybody was all smiles. No one knew we had a late dinner and drinks the night before and by some miracle, we were up by 6:00 am for breakfast and already dressed up.”

The actor who won the Urian best actor trophy for Ishmail Bernal’s “City After Dark” said he met Diaz in the Sinag film fest in Taguig and later got word he was being considered for a role and it was a role of a lifetime. “The role, as it turned out, is that of a Tikbalang, the mythic man-horse and Master of Misguidance in Filipino folklore who plays tricks on the unwary so they are misled. I would later appreciate that in Lav Diaz’s awesome genius and fertile imagination, Hele is the forest of the mind where mythology, Philippine literature (the lost pages of El Filibusterismo) and history converge –with each character caught up in searching for something they consider urgent and life-changing. But maybe, just maybe, Lav is the Tikbalang himself, a playful, well-meaning catalyst for change, prodding napping searchers to wake up to what is truly important –because history repeats itself. In many ways, it was a timely film for me considering the current state of our country today.”

In the press conference that followed the screening, Diaz rejected being labeled as a creator of “slow cinema.”

Actor Bernardo Bernardo in the Berlin presscon.

Actor Bernardo Bernardo in the Berlin presscon.

He told the Berlin press: ““We’re labeled ‘the slow cinema’ but it’s not slow cinema, it’s cinema. I don’t know why … every time we discourse on cinema we always focus on the length. Cinema is just like t like poetry, just like music, just like painting where it’s free, whether it’s a small canvas or it’s a big canvas, it’s the same … So cinema shouldn’t be imposed on.”

Film writer Deborah Cole reported hundreds of movie lovers emerged bleary-eyed but enthusiastic Thursday after the longest competition contender in the 66-year history of the Berlin film festival, shown in an eight-and-a-half hour marathon screening with just one break.

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