LAV DIAZ’S REFLECTIONS ON A TROUBLED PAST

Film Notes
LAV DIAZ’S REFLECTIONS ON A TROUBLED PAST
by Pablo A. Tariman

Lav Diaz’s latest oeuvre opens on the year Dr. Jose Rizal was shot at Bagumbayan.

Direk Lav Diaz on the set of "Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis" in Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon. Unerring breadth of vision connecting the past with the present.

Direk Lav Diaz on the set of “Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis” in Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon. Unerring breadth of vision connecting the past with the present.

Historical events and characters openly interact with characters from Rizal’s novels thus giving new life to Isagani (John Lloyd Cruz) and Simoun (Piolo Pascual).

Sid Lucero creates a new Basilio, intense and full of hope for the future.

As Isagani grieves the death of Rizal, Simoun is on the run as his grand design wreaks havoc on the lives of revived characters in Rizal’s novels.

Then we see scenes from Gregoria de Jesus’s search for the body of her husband, Andres Bonifacio and once again, the film gives as another grim illustration of a revolution devouring its own children. As in the film “Heneral Luna,” Diaz’s opus once again confirms Emilio Aguinaldo’s role in the death of the father of the Katipunan.

“Hele” has many historical layers and one of its informed highlights is Simoun and Isagani’s discourse on art and life and the many nuances of freedom as an idea and social reality.

Contrary to this reviewer’s initial fears, Cinema 9 in Megamall was full on opening day and a highly perceptive audience broke into applause after the screening.

Its most moving opening shot is guitarist Ely Buendia playing a guitar arrangement of a favorite zarzuela, “Jocelnang Baliwag” followed by its vocal version rendered by Buendia and Jean Judith Javier.

Those musical numbers (a favorite of the revolutionary movement of that era) set the tone for the Diaz opus that is at once unique and distinct from the usual crop of historical films emerging in our local theaters.

John Lloyd Cruz and Piolo Pascual as Isagani and Simoun in "Hele..." Excellent tandem.

John Lloyd Cruz and Piolo Pascual as Isagani and Simoun in “Hele…” Excellent tandem.

To recreate that era, the Diaz film is in black and white with no elaborate musical scoring to tie the threads of its narratives. Its main staggering asset is the use of silence in between transitions as the story flows like pages from a family album. And to make things complicated, characters from Rizal’s novels and true-to-life historical figures interact freely with mythological figures thus the presence of the tikbalangs played by the brilliant trio of Cherie Gil, Bernardo Bernardo and Angel Aquino.

As it was, Diaz gave the film his own personal imprimatur, his own way of storytelling and the result was eight hours of pure cinematic magic without using the conventional way of filmmaking.

The film’s use of silence is exceptional
All throughout the 8-hour film is the sound of nature: the sound of waves contrasting with the sounds in a burning hut, the sound of birds and crickets in the forest and the sound of rivers and streams inside the forested area.

While it dwells on the country’s troubled past, the script gives us enough moments to relate to the present with John Lloyd Cruz (as Isagani) asking Padre Florentino (Menggie Cobarrubias) some nagging questions: why do our leaders steal, kill and oppress?

As it is, the film’s message is equally astounding and here one realizes that the Lav Diaz output is a perfect film every voter should watch before the May 9 elections.

And to top it all, the actors were a cohesive and versatile lot starting with Cherie Gil,Bernardo Bernardo Angel Aquino, Susan Manikan, Sid Lucero, Bart Guingona, Mengie Cobarrubias, Ronnie Lazaro and Joel Saracho, among others

Alessandra de Rossi delineated a very intense portrayal as Ceasaria Belarmino with the fairly good, if, inchoate Hazel Orencio who portrayed Gregoria de Jesus.
On the other hand, a new kind of Piolo Pascual and John Lloyd Cruz emerged from this film and their acting tandem worked from beginning to end.

Piolo Pascual with the three distinguished 'tikbalangs' in the Diaz film in the 66th Berlin Film Festival: Bernardo Bernardo, Cherie Gil and Angel Aquino

Piolo Pascual with the three distinguished ‘tikbalangs’ in the Diaz film in the 66th Berlin Film Festival: Bernardo Bernardo, Cherie Gil and Angel Aquino

Their discourse on art and life mirrors the naivete of Isagani and the cunning,if, scheming ways of Simoun.

Their characters were so well-defined in the film you wonder if a film sequel would follow to take advantage of the duo’s distinct acting rapport.

The scene with them reciting Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” — initially in Spanish and later in Pilipino — was to me the most moving highlight of the film. The enunciation was clear and meaningful, the cadence well-timed and for once, you see matinee idols redeeming themselves as honest-to-goodness actors in this film.

For its breadth of vision managing to connect the past with the present, “Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis” is my landmark film of the decade.”

It is now showing in cinemas.

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