Marso 1: Batang West Side
by Chelsea Fajardo
Noong Linggo, Marso 1, dumalo ako sa isang screening ng Batang West Side (2001, dir. Lav Diaz) sa Egypt Theatre sa Hollywood. Ang Batang West Side ay tungkol sa isang Pilipinong binatilyo, si Hanzel Harana (na ginampanan ni Yul Servo) na natagpuan na pinaslang sa mga lansangan ng New Jersey, at ang detektib na nag-iimbestiga sa kaso, si Juan Mijares (ginampanan ni Joel Torre), na may sarili din mga personal na demonyo. Sa pamamagitan ng isang serye ng mga panayam ng mga kaibigan at kapamilya ni Hanzel, ang pelikula ay sumasalamin sa kakaibang pag-iisip ng kabataang Pilipinong laki sa America. Sa mahigit sa limang oras ang haba, binasag ng Batang West Side ang mga karaniwang kombesyon na komersyal na sinehan sa pamamagitan ng eksperimentalismo, habang pinapahiwatig ang paniwala ng pangarap sa Amerika.
Si Hanzel ay isa sa mga sunod-sunurang kabataan na nag-hanap ng ibat-ibang swerte ng kabuhayan sa lansangan sa isang mahirap na pamayanang Pilipino ng New Jersey. Ang kwento ng kanyang ina ay pandaigdigan sa karamihang Pilipinong imigrante, na naglakbay sa Estados Unidos upang magbigay ng isang mas matiwasay na buhay para sa kanyang anak, at tumakas sa pagkasira ng kanyang bayan (bilang resulta ng imperyalismong US at militarisasyon). Ang ilang mga eksena na tumatak sa akin isip ay ang paulit-ulit na bangungot ni Mijares tungkol sa kanyang ina (na ginampanan ni Angel Aquino), na salungat sa loob ng pagkakasala ni Hanzel, at isang umiiral na parang sakripisyo ng kanyang ina (sa paglipat sa Amerika na wala naman kabuluhan. ) Sa pangkalahatan, sinaliksik ng pelikula ang lugar ng mga Pilipino, ang pinagdaanang mga trauma, at ang mga implikasyon ng pag-aalis ng bayan sa walang hanggang paghanap ng isang mas magandang kabuhayan.
Ang pelikula ay sinundan ng isang matalas na Q&A kay direktor Lav Diaz, Kung saan tinalakay ang kanyang mga impluwensya sa paggawa ng pelikula, kasama ang malaking responsibilidad ng kanyang talento at galeng sa pagdirektor. Nalaman ko na ang pelikula ay kinunan gamit lamang ang natural na liwanag sa kapaligiran at ito ay natagpuan kong kawili-wili, dahil ang pag-larawan ng cinematography nito ay nakalulungkot. Pinahahalagahan ko rin ang talakayan ni Diaz na dapat suriin ang nakaraan at harapin ang mahabang kasaysayan ng kolonisasyon ng Pilipinas, upang makahanap ng katotohanan at makipagkasundo sa mga pinagdaanan nito. Ang isang kwento na tulad nito ay may tamang panahon at napupuno ng damdamin sa gitna ng mga propaganda ng “American Dream”, na para sa akin ay nakakagising, tulad ng maraming mga salaysay na Filipino American Gen-Z (ng mga Pilipinong pangkaraniwang yaman) na umiikot sa gitna ng mga kabataang sa paaralan, at nasusuot ng damit kalye bilang isang imitasyon sa amerikanong lahing Itim habang sabay na may hawak na sentimento ng laban sa mga Itim, ngunit nagha-hangad tumulad sa mga amerikanong puti ang balat nitong kapitalistang pananakop. Ang matapang na propensidad ni Diaz sa paglarawan ng kwento at ang kanyang pagtanggi sa mga palamuti sa istorya para lamang sa libangan ng manunood, ay higit nagpakita ng kanyang tunay na galeng sa sining kung saan higit naging makatarungan ang kanyang pelikula, at binabalak kong panoorin ang halos lahat pa sa kanyang mga nakaraang katangi-tanging pelikula!
On Sunday, March 1, I attended a screening of Batang West Side (2001, dir. Lav Diaz) at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Batang West Side is about a Filipino teenager, Hanzel Harana (played by Yul Servo) who is found murdered on the streets of New Jersey, and the detective investigating the case, Juan Mijares (played by Joel Torre), as he deals with his own personal demons. Through a series of interviews of Hanzel’s friends and family members, the film delves into the nuances and psyche of the Filipino American diaspora. At over five hours long, Batang West Side breaks conventions of mainstream commercial cinema through experimentalism, while demystifying the notion of the American Dream.
Hanzel is one of the many vulnerable youths navigating survival and street gangs, particularly in an impoverished Filipino community of New Jersey. His mother’s story is universal to Filipinos of the diaspora and immigrants alike, in that she traveled to the United States in order to provide a better life for her son and to flee her homeland’s deterioration (as a result of US imperialism and militarization). A few scenes that stood out to me included Mijares’s recurring nightmares of his mother (played by Angel Aquino), as his inner conflicts parallel Hanzel’s guilt, and an existential void over feeling as if his mother’s sacrifices (in migrating to America were in vain.) Overall, the film explores the Filipino’s place in the diaspora, generational trauma, and the implications of displacement in the perpetual search for a better life.
The film was followed by an insightful Q&A with director Lav Diaz, discussing his influences in filmmaking, along with the sense of responsibility that accompanies the practice. I learned that the film was shot only using available natural light which I found very interesting, as its cinematography was mesmerizing. I also appreciated Diaz’s discussion of having to examine the past and confront the Philippines’s long history of colonization, in order to find truth and reconcile with these traumas. A story like this felt very timely and poignant amidst the propagandized myths of the American Dream, and I found it to be refreshing, as many of the Filipino American Gen-Z narratives (at least in my experiences) revolve around middle-class youth who go to nursing school, wear streetwear as an imitation of Blackness while simultaneously holding anti-Black sentiments, and aspiring towards whiteness within capitalist hegemony. Diaz’s daunting propensity for storytelling and refusal to sugar-coat his art for the sake of entertainment has made for a powerful film, and I intend on watching more of his past works!
Brillante Mendoza, 2016
Ma’ Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) has four children. She owns a small convenient store in a poor neighborhood of Manila where everybody likes her. To make ends meet, Rosa and her husband, Nestor, resell small amounts of narcotics on the side. One day, they get arrested. Rosa’s children are ready to do anything to buy their parents’ freedom from the corruptpolice.
Dwein Baltazar, 2018
Oda follows the story of the old maid Sonya (Marietta Subong), whose family’s business is embalming the dead. One day she finds herself curious and discovers a corpse that changes herlife.
Chito S. Roño, 2013
Badil takes place in a tiny barangay in Samar on the eve of an election. The elderly Ponso (Dick Israel) is a veteran campaigner for incumbent Mayor del Mundo. He gets to work on that day, walking around town, handing…
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Shireen Seno, 2017
Late 1988, Post-dictatorship Philippines. Eight year-old Yael (Jana Agoncillo), shy to a fault, lives in her own private world. Left to her own devices while her mother assembles shoes at the local shoe factory, Yael cooks miniature meals for herself, sometimes forgetting about leftovers for dinner in the fridge. In the evenings, she cuts her mother’s white hair for 25 centavos a strand while they watch soap operas on television. Yael only knows her father through his voice through voice letters in the form of cassette tapes which he sends back every now and then from Saudi Arabia. Their boombox has a problem of ‘eating tape’, but this does not stop Yael from secretly listening to Father’s voice letters. One night, she accidentally records over a voice tape meant for herMother.
Jewel Maranan, 2018
Sa Palad ng…
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The 2010s in Philippine cinema saw the continuous resurgence of independent filmmaking that emerged in the 2000s brought about by digital technology and facilitated by institutions that provide seed capital to mostly young filmmakers to showcase their works in local film festivals. The independent filmmakers in turn raised the quality of mainstream industry outputs as many of them got tapped by studios to write and direct their own films.
For this poll, we have invited 100 filmmakers, reviewers, academics, and film programmers to name their favorite local films of the past decade. Here are the top 50.
50. Florentina Hubaldo, CTE
Lav Diaz, 2012
In a rural area, a father forces his daughter into prostitution. Somewhere else, two men embark on a quest for a buried treasure.
49. Lukas Niño
John Torres, 2013
Lukas Niño is a story of an awkward teenager coming to grips with…
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FlorentinaHubaldo, CTE (2012), dir.LavDiaz–Clockingin at around six hours –amedium lengthfilm by his standards – Filipino film masterLavDiazpushes his use of long form cinematowardsanearpainful perfection that is almost unbearableto witness. Known morethese daysforhishigher-budgeted,sprawling, multi-character epicswith big namemainstreamstars, Diaz’smore humblesingle characterstudies – more so –meritourmuch-neededattention.Like his 2006filmHeremias(Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess), starringthe greatRonnieLazaro, Diaz uses a single character’s narrative to embody much ofFilipinopeople’shistoricalsuffering and trauma. Witha masterful performance by HazelOrencio,Diaz turns a soap opera plot on paper into one of the most convincing and authentic depictionsofabuse andtrauma in all of cinema.Other films merely tell the audience a story about abuse and trauma. Diaz’s use ofduration,long takes, visual and aural repetition,attempt to approximate the very experience of abuse and traumainto the audience.
KasaysayanngIsangIna (2014) dir.RueloLozendo–The only short film on the list, but that does not mean it’s a mere novelty. A great short film is just…
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As we noted in the introduction to our decade poll, the 2010s in Philippine cinema saw the expansion on the huge gains made the previous decade, with the continued rise of independent filmmaking. While there is obviously no single person that can capture the story of the 2010s in local cinema, we thought it would be fun to ask close industry observers as to who they think is one figure that was instrumental in shaping the past decade in film.
The goal is not to tabulate, though for those who are curious, Lav Diaz was mentioned the most, followed by Antoinette Jadaone, Bing Lao, and Teddy Co. Our objective was to hear how the invited respondents defended their choices.
Joseph Abello, filmmaker
“Jun Lana. The decade saw the division between ‘indie’ films and mainstream films. I wanted to mention two directors, one ‘indie’ director and one mainstream…
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Grande œuvre troublante et sombre, le nouveau film de Lav Diaz évoque la terreur politique passée et présente dans son pays, les Philippines, et confirme l’importance majeure de cet auteur dans le cinéma contemporain.
Le 18e film de Lav Diaz est un monstre. Un monstre bouleversant de beauté et de violence. Un monstre né des amours improbables de la comédie musicale et du témoignage de la terreur politique, enfanté par un grand poète du fantastique. La Saison du diable fut la révélation du dernier Festival de Berlin.
Poète, conteur, cinéaste, Diaz a construit en vingt ans une œuvre considérable, de manière complètement indépendante, dans un environnement économique, politique et culturel terriblement hostile, œuvre à laquelle il ajoute ici une pièce majeure.
Dans la jungle des Philippines, un village est mis en coupe réglée par les militaires avec le soutien de politiciens véreux. Tout ce qui incarne indépendance…
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Written by Bayani San Diego, Jr, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 22, 2018
Lav Diaz’s “Ang Panahon ng Halimaw” will be shown in three continents: Asia, Australia and Europe.
First stop for the martial law musical is the Jerusalem Film Festival in Israel, from July 26 to Aug. 5.
The fest’s website describes the “esteemed director’s” latest work as “an extraordinary musical… a Filipino rock opera featuring sung [lines of] dialogue.”
The Jerusalem fest relates that the film “draws on real-life characters… [and] unveils a particularly dark era in Filipino history under the Marcos dictatorship.”
“Halimaw,” which premiered at the Berlinale in February, is also headed to the New Horizons International Film Festival, scheduled from July 26 to Aug. 5 in Wroclaw, Poland.
Critic Adam Kruk points out in the New Horizons website that “the latest film by one of the most eccentric filmmakers in contemporary cinema… [continues] to reflect on his country’s difficult history.”
The reviewer takes note of “the bizarre musical spectacle’s… fairy-tale atmosphere.”
“Halimaw” is also part of the Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia, from Aug. 2 to 19.
The Melbourne fest website asserts that Diaz’s “melancholy, unconventional musical confronts the violence of the [Philippines’] past—and, through it, the echoes that persist to this day.”
Shireen Seno’s “Nervous Translation” will also be shown at the Melbourne fest.
Lastly, “Halimaw” will be released in French theaters, starting July 25, via distributor ARP Selection.
SADNESS AND MADNESS
The outrageous lengths of Lav Diaz’s films correspond less to the director’s vast, personal vision and more of instinct. Like Guy Maddin, half-way around the world, whose lo-fi silent film facsimiles are preferences made by the director to suit his own likings, so does Lav Diaz; it was as if both directors embedded this litany whenever they shoot their films: I’ll do it this way, because I want it this way!
But because of this, the Philippines’ greatest director at present is virtually unseen here in his home country which he films with so much passion and vigor. Only through underground screenings, illegal ones at that, are his films watched by a few of his unshakable followers. And when the lucky chance of a public screening does arise, the facts on Lav Diaz and his films: their length, Lav Diaz’s druggie, and tattooed appearance, overcome the decisions…
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