EXCEPTIONAL ACTING IN THE LATEST LAV DIAZ OPUS
by Pablo A. Tariman
Watching a Lav Diaz film will no doubt require moviegoers to go back to the basics of storytelling. The director is at home in black and white, he has no need for any semblance of film scoring and according to his book, the story is the thing.
With no music to enhance or compliment the storytelling, Diaz is one filmmaker who believes that that the best film scoring is total silence or just the live sound emanating from the set.
The filmmaker admits that the film was inspired by the short story God Sees the Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy. But after watching the nearly 4-hour film, you actually get a shimmering, if, equally astounding variation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” with Horacia (Charo Santos) getting the brunt of a crime she did not commit. After her 30-year stint in prison, she sets out to punish the man who made her life miserable. While looking for her son, she meets the ostracized, if, marginalized figures in her hometown among them the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino) and Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz).
The madwoman yelling “Demons, sons of demons” while being pursued by Horacia was indeed very Dostoevsky-esque.
The Lav Diaz film gives us a good mirror on which we can reflect on Philippine society in transition. In his search for truth, Diaz refuses to embellish his narrative with anything that will distract from the shocking, if, sordid truth about his country.
Charo Santos as Horacia blended perfectly with the story even without the benefit of close ups to highlight her powerful acting. When she discovered what was left of her family after 30 years in prison, you could feel the deep hurt and all that she could manage was a short but hair-raising cry of anguish. Simply told, this is Charo Santos at one of her best acting moments.
One of the most rewarding moments of the film is seeing actors transform their characters into something beyond what was written on the script.
The balut vendor played by Nonie Buencamino comes to life as he interacts with the ex-convict (Charo Santos Concio) and the suicidal transvestite (John Lloyd Cruz). He is dreaming of a better life yet he is not envious that the town politicians (Michael de Mesa and company) enjoy a better life that he could only imagine in real life.
Nevertheless, he sees infinite goodness in the character of Horacia (Concio) who later horrifies him when she asked him where she could buy a gun. You can see the vulnerability of ordinary people as he recounts assorted crimes plaguing his town, how he would do everything for his family and how he survived sex slavery during brief imprisonment as a young man.
One notes how he finds meaning in his lines, how his face changes hues when narrating the character’s happy and traumatic past and how he finds miracle in every act of goodness from his new found friend. The joy of acting is watching Buencamino transform his role and finding redemption in every episode of his character’s life.
As for Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), he came to the island to die. He has given up on life until he finds someone who truly cares about his existence.
He joins the world of the ex-convict (Charo Santos), the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino), the tramp (Cacai Bautista?) who knows where the town VIPs (politicians, businessmen and the like) are seated during the regular Sunday mass.
It turned out Hollanda used to work in Japan as an entertainer and he can sing “Sunrise, Sunset” (from Fiddler on the Roof) with poignant overtones.
He dances on the street. He goes after lusty young men. He freely indulges not so much as an act of lust but as part of his own Immolation Scene.
Then he discovers his kind stranger’s innermost secret. He is determined to repay that act of kindness.
What his character did, how he coped and how he accepted his fate are the shining moments of actor John Lloyd Cruz. Indeed, those moments are enough reason for moviegoers to re-read “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
The first Filipino recipient of the Golden Lion in the 73rd Venice Film Festival is a winner in all aspects – storytelling, ensemble acting and a rare brand of directorial treatment that can only emanate from an ultra-sensitive filmmaker.
The rest of the cast who delivered equally memorable performances include Shamaine Centenera, Mae Paner, Cacai Bautista and Michael de Mesa, among others.
“Ang Babaeng Humayo” is now showing in cinemas.