This is another unofficial site for Lav Diaz, "...the great Filipino poet of cinema." (Cinema du reel, Paris).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Lav Met Guy

By Bayani San Diego Jr.

Talk of this film uniting two superstars of Philippine cinema, Nora Aunor and Lav Diaz, is making the rounds in blogs.

Diaz confirmed this with Inquirer Entertainment, saying the movie, “Reclusion Perpetua,” has been in the works for the past three years.

(Aunor is also set to shoot “Do Filipinos Cry in America?” next year, according to its director, Celso Ad. Castillo.)

Diaz finally met with Aunor recently in Santa Monica, California.

“I went to see Nora,” Diaz explained, “to see how committed she was to the project. We talked at length about it.”

Diaz liked what he saw and heard: “She’s committed.”

He calls it a “collective” effort: “Her fans are raising money. If we meet the target, we’ll be shooting soon.”

Meanwhile, Diaz is off to the Thessaloniki film fest in Greece, where he’s a jury member and where his latest short, “Butterflies Have No Memories,” will be featured in a retrospective on Pinoy indies.

Then, “Butterflies” and his Venice-winning feature, “Melancholia,” will be screened in Warsaw.

Diaz received the Indie Spirit award in the just-concluded Cinemanila fest.

What was the meeting with Nora like?

It was cool. She was in jeans and rubber shoes, no makeup. The sun was shining so bright that day, but a cool breeze, like Baguio’s, was hovering. We had a late lunch and a few beers. We realized we were in LA’s gay district because we kept seeing men holding hands while strolling, and women lustily kissing. Nora joked, “Alam ko na ngayon kung saan pupunta (Now, I know where to go).”

What is “Reclusion Perpetua” about?

Nora’s character is looking for her husband, who disappeared in the US.

Why is it important to you to make a film with Nora now?

It is a cultural issue for me. It is dialectical. Nora Aunor is a Filipino icon, arguably our greatest actress. So, on the level of cultural discourse, she is very much a part of our struggle. I am not a fan ... though my mother is a fanatic. As a cultural worker, I acknowledge her importance.

Why is it important for today’s audiences to see her act again?

Any respectable Nora Aunor film can be used to educate our people. This is my responsibility, to use the medium to create a greater aesthetic and socio-cultural discourse for our people. The most potent modern medium now is cinema. Why not use an incredibly potent icon in the process?

I am using the term “use,” or “paggamit” in Tagalog, in a very dialectical way. That answers the need for a Nora Aunor film. I am not doing a propaganda film, though, not a Nora rah-rah movie. The film’s core shall remain aesthetic. This is still free cinema. It can run 40 hours.

Why is it described as a collective effort?

Everybody is working almost pro bono. Her responsible fans are doing patak-patak (passing the hat). We will work on people’s donations. I am actually announcing it now: We need help! The objective is greater cinema, not profit. Should money come later, it would just be consequential.

How do you know Nora?

In Cotabato, as a kid, I experienced the phenomenon. It was crazy. My mom had some of her records at home.

The screenings of Nora Aunor movies were out of this world. You can actually see truckloads of people arriving in front of movie houses—people from the barrios. They’d be bringing kalderos and platos.

Every time Nora appeared onscreen, there would be screaming, wailing, shrieking. Some would faint. You couldn’t breathe or move. It wasn’t just standing room; it was bumper-to-bumper, sweat-to-sweat, laway-to-laway, bahala na kung mamatay (spit-to-spit, who cares if we die).

What are your favorite Nora Aunor movies?

I love Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala.” She’s also great in Mario O’Hara’s “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos.”

What’s the latest on your other projects?

“Babae ng Hangin” is still evolving, yet again. I am following new threads to finish it. I submitted a more than three-hour rough cut to Venice but some problems ensued, so I pulled it out. But I’m really thankful that it happened, as I now have a clearer view of how to finish the film in the aesthetic realm.

The Gregoria de Jesus project remains a work in progress. I tried to do some test and pre-production, but I just couldn’t push it properly. The hardest part is finding the right Gregoria de Jesus.

I am also making this call to the brave ones: If you think you can be the great Oryang, please submit your résumé and tell us why. Marami pang karakter na puwede sa lahat (There are other characters for everyone else), if they know the story of the Philippine Revolution.

What’s your take on the retro on Filipino films in the Thessaloniki fest in Greece?

It’s good for RP cinema. They can’t just dismiss us now.

What should Filipino filmmakers do to sustain this international interest?

Just keep working hard, but not so much because of vanity. Everyone wants to be a rock star ... but there’s more to be done in the aesthetic domain. If we really want a revolution, we must work harder and dig deeper. The real revolution that can save our devastated culture is a battle to destroy ignorance and apathy. This issue is a cultural struggle. Let’s examine our history as a people. Why is our culture so dysfunctional? Let’s examine the past and present.

Just ask the obvious questions: How could we have allowed more than 300 years of Spanish rule ... almost 100 years of American imperialism ... 20 years of Marcos dictatorship ... nine years of Macapagal-Arroyo?

With the advent of digital technology, how has filmmaking changed for Filipinos in the last five years?

The last five years have been a watershed. It created greater dynamism on the part of practitioners. Emancipation of the process was delivered by the digital age. We’ve finally destroyed feudalism in cinema. That alone is a huge leap. Greater freedom could hopefully lead to more visionary works. But let us be careful and cautious, because with greater freedom comes greater responsibility.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 25, 2009


By Francis Cruz

"Diaz's eight-hour meditation on the persistence and immobility of sadness is painful and, paradoxically, exhilarating to watch. Painful because we know of the military persecution of leftist and progressive groups in the Philippines, ongoing even unto this day; exhilarating because Diaz, above all Filipino film-makers still active, illuminates recent Philippine history with lighting bolt of his imagination."
-- Noel Vera

Lav Diaz's Melancholia is an eight-hour meditation of sorts on the maddening persistence of sadness in this world, can logically be divided into three parts and an epilogue. The first part details the experiences in Sagada of Julian (Perry Dizon), Alberta (Angeli Bayani) and Rina (Malaya Cruz) as they refashion themselves into different drastic identities as part of the radical process that Julian created in order for them to cope with the losses of their loved ones. The second part is set in Manila, with Julian and Alberta living their real lives and addressing the scenarios and situations that accompany their melancholic predicament. The third part is the prologue to Julian, Alberta and Rina's prolonged tale of sadness, where deep within the forests of Mindoro, a band of leftist fighters, which includes Alberta's husband Renato (Roeder Camanag), is struggling with the psychological and spiritual torture of both practical and existential defeat while being hunted down by military operatives.

Melancholia is most probably Diaz's most difficult film for the lone reason that Diaz affords little or no comfort to his viewers. There is very little humor to the film and the story, grounded by philosophies and ideas that might be too personal or hard to grasp, branches into different and sometimes convoluted directions. However, as with most of Diaz's films, the reward of completing one is not in the pleasure of sitting through eight hours of his trademark black and white aesthetics and seemingly endless ramblings and conversations, but in the lingering and often valid points that Diaz would have you digesting and exploring for a far longer period of time.

I. Transformations and Transgressions in Sagada

Alberta becomes Jenine, a prostitute who does massages for 300 pesos and other services for more. Julian turns into a pimp who for the right price can stage live sex shows within the privacy of a hotel room. Rina is a Catholic nun who wanders around town with her charity basket, begging for money for charity. They would bump into each other on occasions: with Jenine handily getting some change to put into the nun's charity basket before fleeting away to her destination, or the pimp taking photographs of the nun before mouthing slogans about the futility of living in a country and a world that is practically hell, or Jenine being courted by the pimp to do business for him. In Sagada, they do not know each other. Though in reality, they are all survivors who have subscribed to the extremist idea that in order to cope with the fact of having a loved one disappear and be presumed dead, they should shed their identities and see the world through the eyes of another.

The three would eventually meet at the same time as the three of them seek shelter from the rain inside an abandoned building in the middle of the town. The line that separates truth and fiction are blurred, as Jenine and the pimp recount their respective histories as if the personalities they inhabited are real. It may be argued that fictionalizing one's life story may be an easy feat. However, it is the disturbing direction of their conversation when the nun arrives in the abandoned building that gives the prolonged scene a harrowing distinction. The pimp starts cornering the nun, berating her of the futility of her efforts within the spectrum of evil that has consumed the world. In the background, Jenine is amused at the lopsided confrontation, wherein the nun coyly mutters meaningless quotes while the pimp expounds on the the world's state of hopelessness. Defeated, the nun escapes the scene as the two admitted sinners rejoice in their triumph.

The nun is the only one to surrender and give up. It seems that in a world that has been enveloped by sadness, it is the meek, and pure that fall first as victims. In Rina's transformation as a nun, she has seen the world from the vantage point of innocence, and the continuing acts of evildoing, apathy, and madness may have dealt upon her despair and hopelessness. Her transformation seems easiest as compared to being a whore or a pimp, since it seems less taxing to roam the streets begging for alms. However, the transgression in her existence, upon seeing the state of the world through the eyes of a person who was tasked to save it or at least ease its pain and being unable to do anything, is far more damaging. Her transformation deviates the most from the world. Her assumed identity is an aberration, especially in a landscape that has forgotten virtues.

Diaz posits an intriguing concept: that survival is earned by those who swear allegiance with truth, and truth is what we see in this world: melancholia, death, amorality, and atheism. There is truth in sex, the way the pimp's sex performers copulate in the total absence of love, hate, or any other emotion. There is truth in prostitution, the way our bodies have turned into mere commodities and stripped of any religion-labeled value. The nun, at one point of the segment, visits a widowed mother she had the opportunity to converse with while begging for alms. Inside the church, the mother sings a melody while the nun observes in the background before leaving. Outside, she walks away, answers her phone and tells her friend that she is okay. During that moment, upon being exposed the utter futility of faith, she finds a semblance of comfort, although temporary since later, she would take her own life in a final act of despair.

II. Patricia's Song

Diaz forwards the story further, detailing the lives of Julian and Alberta weeks after their stints as pimp and whore, respectively, in Sagada. Julian is a publisher in Manila who often dreams of her dead wife Patricia (Cooky Chua). Alberta, on the other hand, is a school principal who while coping with the disappearance of her husband, has to take care of her ward Hannah (Yanyan Taa), a teenager who was rendered parentless when both her parents were abducted and killed by government officials. Hannah, to address her situation, repels Alberta's acts of kindness by repeatedly escaping from her protection and prostituting herself.

Julian chats with an old friend (Bodjie Pascua), an author who pitches his manuscript for publication. In their conversation about the story of Julian's friend's book, Diaz expounds his passion for cinema, correlating his philosophies on truth with art. According to the friend (whose language is not dissimilar to Diaz's), our basic concept of Philippine cinema has been grounded on lies and escapism. The only way to dispel this harmful imposition against culture is through a drastic change, fueled by pain and passion as the main character of the book, a famed director who after losing his lover, reforms into a producer of independent films while acknowledging his homosexuality, has gone through.

In Julian's dream, Patricia sings of her endless search against the backdrop of coldness and pain in the world. The song sets the mood and tone of the film. In a sense, the song summarizes the characters' need to search: for their lost loved ones, for a reason behind the sadness and the madness of the world, an impossible happiness or contentment, for Hannah, for truth. Melancholia's landscape is familiar (city streets, humble abodes, riverside parks), but its characters are placed in a situation where they have turned into desperate searchers, fueled at first by grief and longing and then by some other force or motivation that is as elusive as their targets. The repercussions of their exercise in Sagada are faint (although Rina's suicide becomes the trigger of Julian's deep contemplation) if not damaging as opposed to being the cure to their collective sadness. Even the discovery of the remains of some victims of political killings failed to release them from their collective burdens. In the end, they are still looking for sense and direction and all at once, the familiar places start to look like alien landscapes, enunciated by the violence of the rain or the discomfort of the night. These places convert into limbo.

This persistent searching is true to the theme of Diaz's cinema, which would often allude to some kind of redemption or release in the conclusion, whether it be in the form of Juan Mijares' acceptance of his and his nation's past in Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, 2001), or the wayward oxcart-driver's deal with God in Heremias (2006), or Hamin's release from the world's madness through death in Kagadanan sa Banwaan Ning Mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos, 2007). However, in Melancholia, the characters are trapped in limbo (in fact, an offshoot of Melancholia which makes use of some footage made for the film is aptly entitled Purgatorio (2008), referring to the eternal state of being neither here or there of the family left behind by the victims of political killings) and are seemingly in a directionless search for something that can never be found.

III. No Redemption for the Poet-Warrior

Renato writes in his diary "Why is there so much sadness and too much sorrow in this world? Is happiness just a concept? Is living just a process to measure man's pain? Are we ever going to see each other again? I'm not afraid of death. I'm more afraid that I won't see you again.'" Renato, a leftist activist who left his wife to fight a war of principles, is now being chased into the forest by military operatives who want him and his comrades silenced.

Diaz painstakingly details the final few days of this band of men who are merely prolonging their assured demise under their enemies. Some of them start to falter, giving way to insanity and defeat, enveloped by the lurking senselessness of their struggle amidst a world drowned by indifference and apathy. He writes further "I now realized the lyrical madness to this struggle. It is all about sadness. It is about my sadness. It is about the sorrow of my people. I cannot romanticize the futility of it all. Even the majestic beauty of this island could not provide an answer to this hell. There is no cure to this sadness."

Renato writes words of despair. Strangled by his impending capture and death, he starts to rationalize the bitter truth that beneath the illusions and promises dealt by momentous beauty, emotions, and moments of fleeting happiness, is a world that is barren and replete of hope. His and his comrades' deaths come swiftly in a moment where one of them, in an act of desperation, expresses surrender. Their deaths did not release them from purgatory. Instead, as we have learned from the film's previous scenes in Sagada and Manila, their deaths are black holes that pull loved ones into a void, a metaphoric limbo where they undergo futile searches for logic and reason, goals that have been rendered implausible by the realities of pain and suffering in this world .

The sequence in the forest does not provide redemption for Alberta either. She still does not know where her husband's remains were left. She has not read the words Renato has written in his diary. All she knows is that her husband is gone and most probably dead. There is yet no closure for the victims, only closure in Diaz's circle of melancholia, where the man-made, or more accurately, governmental act of depravity and cowardice has caused the never-ending cycle of sadness and madness to begin.

IV. Epilogue

The riverside park at nighttime, dimly lit by streetlamps that scarcely dot the walkpath, serves as Diaz's stage for his confounding finale. Alberta searches for Julian among the men and women (performance artists who contort their bodies into unusual shapes and positions) that populate the park's spaces. Cryptic phrases, recited in hypnotic cadence, are thrown in reply to Alberta's fervent questioning. She finally locates Julian, alone and seated in the dark, dissheveled in appearance and obviously in the same trance-like state of the park's curious residents. From Alberta and Julian's conversation, we can glean that Julian has turned into a monster, consumed by his own search for the truth, eaten up by the pain and sadness that he has tried to cope with, and ironically, embraced it to create. Julian has become God, the personification of the melancholy and insanity of the world, the only things that can be labeled as definite truths in a world that deceives us with illusions of joy and beauty. He walks away, claiming that he is no longer Julian. Alberta is left alone.

Although the film can be seen as Diaz's definitive statement (and it probably is, Diaz being very vocal on politics) on the desaparecidos, the numbers of which have risen during Macapagal-Arroyo's term as president, and the families they have left in stasis, there is definitely something deeper: a philosophical or existential query that Diaz throws to his viewers on the basis of the world's current status. Melancholia aims to expound on truth by distorting it (where Julian, Alberta and Rina assume fake identities in Sagada as coping mechanism to battle their sadness), disrespecting it (where the trio start living and believing their assumed identities), mutating it (where the trio can no longer discern the line that divides reality and illusion), and finally, spiting it (where truth, as personified by Julian, shows itself as pitiful and pathetic).

From the blog Lessons From The School of Inattention

Agonistes (work-in-progress)

By Northern Portrait

The ancient Greeks invented and defined the term apropos of our everyday fate. Agony. Ours is one born out of a myriad of cataclysms – both natural and auto-inflicted. Lav Diaz’s Agonistes, an admitted work-in-progress but already fully formed, meditates on the Filipino’s most pressing worldly struggle, his struggle to break out of material poverty and the non-material consequences of poverty. Hints, however, point to a more eschatological theme – the centrality or the simultaneity of the spiritual struggle.

Directing from his own script, Diaz transposes the ancient term agonistes to latter-day Philippines. He singles out the classic strugglers of contemporary times, the working-class men and the peasants, to shoulder grinding poverty. In truth, it can be said that the agonist has been a favorite fixture of Diaz’s other films: Heremias is both agonized and anguished, so is Hamin in Death in the Land of Encantos, tortured and demented at once. Epic but individual in scope, mythological and biblical in character, Diaz’s stories are veritable stories of struggles, sagas of agony.

Agonistes opens with a grandiose sequence of robust buildings under construction in Manila. This is the magnificence that, on a sudden, contrasts with the slumped figure of one construction worker, a young man named Juan. As he narrates what he has witnessed to Manoling, an older, brotherly fellow worker, he has been traumatized by the sight of one of his co-workers being buried alive in wet concrete at the construction site. But the occupational dangers are not the end of it – the rainy season soon floods the metropolis and makes it impossible for them to reach their workplace.

These two become so desperate that, over a drinking session, they latch on to a kind of Pascalian wager. Manoling has revealed a secret of treasure supposed to be buried in his family’s land somewhere in Bikol. If they find it, they are set for life. If not, it’s just a matter of a few days’ work and a matter of looking a little silly, perhaps. They aren’t even thinking of that: Manoling is just “tired” of the daily grind.

Quitting their jobs, they emerge in Bikol one day, purchase digging equipment and get to work. They meet Manoling’s brother who farms the land but whose wife Loleng is terminally ill with a lung disease. As the trenches deepen, Juan and Manoling only manage to turn up rusty metals and an old military boot. Manoling’s brother seems content to live a farmer’s life and jokes in the background about a share of the spoils. At dusk, all of them often – including the bed-ridden Loleng -- gather to watch the magnificent – otherworldly? – sunset.

Agonistes is a miserabilist ode to materialism – or an oblique one to spiritual “reorienting.” Or perhaps, their unresolved dialectic. As the almost Syssiphian diggings go on, the crash and crunch of shovels against sand and gravel alternate with the sound of Loleng’s deathly and fatal coughing. As Juan and Manoling pursue their treasurely dreams, they seem oblivious to the specter of death, the possibility of afterlife. Like a colossal god, Mayon Volcano towers in the background to shame their pointless efforts. The Pascalian wager of the search for treasure can thus be read as an allegory on misplaced faith itself, the pursuit of false gods.

Even in this rough cut, Agonistes holds up as an excellent film. The layers of meaning are already robust. The simplistic notion, for instance, of the materialistic agonist (represented by Juan and Manoling) is elevated by the presence of other kinds of agonists: Loleng, the terminally ill agonist whose struggle is physical illness and presumably coming to terms with her faith; and Manoling’s brother, outwardly content, but something else deep down.

It’s a world of lingering shadows, and Diaz complements his classic themes with black and white cinematography. It serves him well again – appropriately eerie and reminiscent, among others, of the work of Bela Tarr. Diaz’s compositions are painterly -- he must have studied classic portraiture in preparation for this -- which reinforces the timelessness and universality of his themes, whether it is a reckoning of the ills of the contemporary Filipino or not. Diaz’s work will transcend the borders of time and space and nationality, our agony aunt for all time.

From the blog the persistence of vision, October 26, 2009

Walang Alaala ang mga Paruparo

By Film Angel

Tasked to create a short film for an omnibus project of the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), Lav Diaz came up with the 59-minute film, Butterflies Have No Memories. He is always pushing his films to the limit. A minute more and it would no longer have been considered a short film. However, the JIFF organizers trimmed it down to 40 minutes in order to make it fit in with two other short films. The longer version is available in the DVD box set released by JIFF.

In the extremely loaded film Butterflies Have No Memories, a bearded man named Ferdinand ‘Pedring’ Belleza is yearning for the return of mining in his town. He worked as chief security officer of a multinational mining company for decades. When it closed down, he lost a well-paying job, as well as his family.

The long-legged beauty Martha is a scion of the mining owners. The family closed the mining company after toxins heavily polluted the river. Their hasty departure turned the former prosperous place into a ghost town.

The return of fair-skinned Martha fuels irritations among local residents. She is likened to the so-called snow from Canada (mine tailings) that triggers skin rashes among the residents. Her former playmates, Carol and Willy, no longer have time to accommodate the young Canadian lady. They are so busy doing household chores or eking out a living. It is ironic that Martha, named after the Biblical character known for her hospitality, is treated badly during her visit.

There is a tinge of envy for the rich, single, and carefree visitor. Some people are more hostile. Pedring hatches a plan to kidnap Martha. His love for money reigns supreme over memories of good times with the family of Martha.

The short film alludes to the destructive effects of mining in Marinduque. Mine tailings caused the biological death of Boac River in 1996. The mining company left the place after decades of operations. Subsequent proposals to re-open the mining site are repelled by the Church and environmentalists.

The hellish effects of mining/treasure hunting were earlier tackled by Diaz in his majestic epic story Ebolusyon Ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino. A female character from the film admonishes her husband to give up mining. 'It is hell,' said the sight-impaired woman. Indeed, the mining area became a burial ground for gold prospectors and treasure hunters. Diaz will return once more to the issue of treasure hunting in a film project titled Agonistes.

Butterflies Have No Memories contains elements one would expect from a Lav Diaz film. Shot in bleak monochrome, the abbreviated film includes a couple of long takes. The lush ambient sound is also here along with scenes featuring animals/insects. I always look forward to the last two elements, ambient sound and inclusion of animals. They play a big part in making Diaz’s films so natural and realistic.

What I didn’t expect is the peculiar, dream-like ending. It features three adult men donning Moriones masks. Their epiphanic encounter with a swarm of butterflies triggers a change of heart for one of them. The sublime last shot is that of a prostrated young man in the middle of the forest while a pair of Roman soldiers looks on.

Lav Diaz is truly a great filmmaker and storyteller, equally adept with short features and epic stories. Butterflies Have No Memories is his best short film so far and one of his most symbol-laden films. It is a wonderful amalgam of mundane and insane images.

From the blog the persistence of vision, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Pula, Puti at saka Blu at marami pang Korol"

Ni Lav Diaz

Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature
Short Story

"Kahirapan ang pinakamasahol na uri ng karahasan."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Nalulungkot lang siya kaya siya ganun, sabi ni Nenet, Dyong at Toto. Pero hindi siya umiiyak. Sanlinggo na. Hindi, siyam na araw na. Pansiyam ngayon.

Tapos na ang dusa. Tinapos niya. Pero naghihirap ang loob niya. Hindi siya matahimik.

Gusto niyang isiping tapos na, sa wakas, pilit pinaluluwag ang dibdib, pero hindi matapos. Matay man niyang gawin, naroroon pa rin, lumalambong, nangangamoy, nambubulahaw. Isang linggo na siyang lumilipad, hindi, siyam na araw na nga pala, pero kapit-tukong kinakalmot pa rin ang katinuan niya. Ayaw bumitiw, hindi kaya ng happenings.

'Yung amoy. Hindi niya makaya, hindi mabata. Sa kasusuka ay wala na siyang maisuka. Malapot na laway na lamang ang lumalabas. Yung amoy. Nakaangkla sa kasuluk-sulukan ng kanyang pangamoy, kahit patung-patong nang singhot ng solben. Parang tumitindi pa nga ang lansa.

Yung sigaw. Nakalulunos, nakapangingilabot. Kumintal na yata sa utak niya. Patuloy na umaalingawngaw. Sanlinggo na. Hindi, siyam na araw na. Ayaw siyang patulugin, kahit kunukulubot at tinutuyot na ng solben ang utak niya.

Magtatawanan sila. Bungi kasi, bulol, tanga, may luga pa.


Ano? Tutuhurin siya ni Dyong, babatukan ni Toto. Galit siya pero hindi siya lalaban. Paano, siya ang pinakamaliit, pinakabata. Si Dyong, dose na. Si Toto, sampu. Si Nenet, hindi sigurado pero kasinlaki niya. Maganda na. Lumalaki na ang suso. Mga susong gusto niyang hawakan at laruin tulad nang nasisilip niyang ginagawa ni Dyong kaya lang, kay Dyong talaga si Nenet, hawak na. Minsan nga, nakatulugan nina Dyong at Nenet na hubad sila. Nakita niya ang kabuuan ni Nenet. Gusto niyang gawin lahat ang ginagawa ni Dyong kay Nenet, halikan sa bunganga, laruin ang suso, papatong, kaya lang, magagalit si Dyong.

Noon, noong maliit pa siya, ganun din ang nakikita niyang ginagawa ng mga lalaking pumapasok sa kanilang tirahan sa iskwater, tulad ng ginagawa ni Dyong kay Nenet. Sa pagkakaalam niya'y parang gabi-gabi, iba-iba. Maghuhubad ang nanay niya tuwing may dumarating. Nakikita niya ang lahat. Bago 'yun magkasakit ang nanay niya.

Si Nanay mo, hindi nagmumulto?


Hala, ayan na'ng nanay mo! Takbuhan sila. Si Nenet, hindi makatakbo, nananakit ang katawan, pero magtatago rin. May kadiliman ang mga sinapupunan ng mga palapag kahit araw. Walang multo, kahit iwan n'yo ako, mabait si Nanay, mabait yun, sabi niya sa sarili.

Moooo! Hindi sa Nanay 'yun, boses ni Nenet. Awooo! Lalong hindi, nagboboses babae si Dyong. Plang! Klang! Nambato ng bakal si Toto. Dyug-dyug-dyug-dyug! Elarti. Dumungaw siya. Hayun, palampas na ang malaahas na sasakyan. Nasa ikalimang palapag siya, mataas ng dalawang palapag sa tapat ng riles ng elarti. Hahabulin niya ang tanaw ng elarti. Sayang, bumaba na ang tama ng solben. Maghapon kasi siyang nakabilad sa araw. Sayang, ang ganda sanang tingnan kung hay pa siya, kahit ganung wala pang ilaw.

Siya, sina Dyong, Nenet at Toto, ang siguro'y tanging nakaaalam na napakasarap pagtripan ang elarti lalo na kung gabing rumaragasa ito, puno ng ilaw at lumilipad sila sa solben. Minsan, akala niya ay uod itong kumikinang ng ilaw at puno ng mga nangungunyapit na linta na may sari-sariling korol. Mga lintang galing sa trabaho. Uuwi na sila. May mga buhay sila, e. Isip niya, ang sarap ng maging katulad nila, nakasakay sa kumikinang na uod na kapag ramaragasa ay nag-iiwan ng pula, puti, blu, orens at maraming, maraming bumibilog, tumutudla, bumubulusok, pumapailanlang, bumubulwak at kumikiwal na korol. Andaming korol! At yung sawns. Walang binesa ang disko sa Menudo. Pakiwari niya'y galing sa langit, mula sa kung saan-saan, dumadagundong, sumasayaw, nag-aanyaya, sumasabay, sumasaliw, umiiwas, lumalayo, lumalapit, sumisiksik, himihiyaw, lumalambing, parang duyan, parang oyayi na nais ihele at magupiling, parang agos na tumatangay, parang alapaap na kumakampay, kumakaway, naglalakbay, isang huning nanghahalina, nang-aakit, umaawit, parang... parang... wow!

Sinabi niya, ilang beses na nasabi na niya, na gusto niyang mamatay sa elarti. Anong sarap na makasama ang mga korol at sawns. Kesa basura, kesa kalsada, kesa tebi, kesa ketong, kesa sipilis, kesa apoy...!

Ginulat siya ng tatlo. Hahaha! Bungi! Tanga! Gago! Baliw! Putsa! Ano, kamo? Lalaban ka? Matapang ka? Ha? Tuhod. Tulak. Aray ko! Pero hindi siya lalaban. Maliit kasi siya.

Nagtitrip ka diyan e, bumaba na ang tama natin. Iiskor tayo mamaya. Iiskor ka pa.

Tinalunton ni Dodoy ang Abenida. Ayaw niya sa usok. Masakit sa ilong. Maingay, hindi niya gusto ng maingay, hindi sawns. Da bes yung elarti. Magulo, walang kuwentang panginorin. Hayun, yung mga neyong naglalaro at de korol, yun ang gusto niya rito tuwing kagampan ang dilim. Kaya lang, kulang sa galaw, kulang sa liksi, kulang sa hagibis. Gusto niya'y matulin, yung gusto mong habulin pero hindi mo makaya. Ganun ang elarti, ibang klase.

Pagtawid niya'y gahibla na siyang muntik na mahagip ng rumaragasang magarang kotse. Kagulo ang trapik. Putang-ina mong yagit ka! Magmura kayo. Wala na sa kanya yun. Yun ngang maghapong higa niya sa gitna o tabing kalsada, e balewala na. Tao, trak, dyip, greder, lahat umiiwas sa kanya, sa kanila. Kailanman ay hindi siya umiiwas sa mga sasakyan. Pag 'di ka umiwas, iiwasan ka. Pag umiwas ka, di sila iiwas. Pag walang umiwas, bahala na. Yun ang natutunan niya sa kalsada. Init at ulan, balewala na rin. Nababata na niyang lahat. Bahagi na yun ng kanyang trabaho, ng pakikibaka sa buhay. Magpupunas ng uling at alikabok, kung minsan putik, sa iba't ibang bahagi ng katawan, damit at syort na anyong basahan, hihiga sa kalsadang maraming nagdaraan katabi ang nakangangang lata. Hindi gaanong dusa kung kargado ng solben, magti-trip ka maghapon. Pag-asa ang bawat kalansing ng barya.

Pasok siya sa madilim at namumutik na iskinita. Doon sa pagawaan ni Kenet ng sapatos. Mas bukas ang puwesto niya pag gabi. Maraming umiiskor.

Uy, Dods, ano ba'ng atin? Kondolens uli. Ilan? Walong kutsara? Wow! Bigat n'yo ah, lumalakas kayo. Lasing si Kenet, may mga kainuman tulad ng dati.

Si Kenet, laging bundat ang tiyan, malaki na nga, hindi tama sa edad niya, trentahin pa lang siya, sobrang porma. Simple lang ang repersyap niya, maliit, pero nakakarating na siya sa Hongkong, Bagyo, at Dabaw. Marami siyang pera.

Hayan, may paamang binilot diyan. Okey ang iskor n'yo ngayon, e.

May balatong damo si Kenet. Mas gusto ni Dodoy ang damo kaya lang di pa nila kaya. Mas mabigat iskorin ang damo. Pero sabi ni Dyong, malapit na silang lumipat sa damo o maaaring shabu basta't palarin si Nenet, sila.

Yun. Kaya walong kutsara sila ngayon, nagsimula na yata ang suwerte ni Nenet kagabi. Pers taym na ipinarada siya ni Dyong sa Ermita, agad may nakanang Ostralyanong datan. Twenti dolars ang hatag. Nagpakabusog sa hamberger at kok sina Dyong, Nenet, at Toto. Si Dodoy, di kaya kahit anong sarap. Ayaw humiwalay nung amoy, nung sigaw. Bumili ng damit si Nenet sa Sentral Market, pati lipstick at pabangong emseben. Bumili rin si Dyong ng bayodyesek para sa lagnat ni Nenet. Hindi ito makagulapay paggising kaninang umaga. Sabi ni Dyong, pers taym kasi sa parener, kaya ganun.

Si Dyong, titigil na rin sa pagdapa sa kalsada. Paparada na rin sa parener ngayong gabi. Kung sakali, paparada na rin si Dodoy at Toto sa mga darating na gabi. Baka sakali, iiwan na nila ang kalsada tulad nina Bet, Warly, Kongkong, Perdi, Sali, Mimi…

Paparada na sila sa parener.

Habang papalapit si Dodoy sa inabandonang bilding, sumagi sa isip niya ang mga sinabi ni Dyong noon, noong buo pa ang gusali at nang masunog ito. Napakagandang bilding nito dati, labas-masok ang mga maayos na tao, yung magagara ang damit. Ni sa hinagap pa nga e, hindi niya inakalang isang araw e, magiging tirahan niya, nila ito, labindalawang palapag. Puro nga abo't uling pero ang laking panangga sa lamig at sakuna sa gabi. Minsan, noong buo pa ang bilding, ang lakas ng ulan, sumilong sila sa may pinto nito, doon na natulog, pero ipinagtabuyan sila ng guwardiya, tinutukan ng baril ang nguso ni Dyong nang umangal ito. Sinagasa nila ang ulan. Nilagnat si Nenet, ang taas, nagdiliryo ng ilang araw, akala nila mamamatay. Sabi ni Dyong, putang-ina, susunugin ko ang bilding! Isang araw nga, mga tatlong buwan na, nasunog ang gusali. Minsang langong-lango sila sa solben, sabi ni Dyong, siya ang sumunog. Pero walang naniwala sa kanilang tatlo. Ngayon, habang paakyat siya sa bilding, naitatanong niya, si Dyong nga kaya ang sumunog nito? Baka totoo. Siya nga e…

Ang tagal mo, a.

Kumakain sina Dyong, Nenet at Toto ng hamberger at kok na naman. May para kay Dodoy pero ayaw niya.

Talagang nagpapakamatay ka na, ano? Ang payat-payat mo na. Kalimutan mo na ang nanay mo. Patay na yun! O, kainin mo!

Ayaw. Buang na talaga! Yun ang sabi ni Nenet. Ang nabubuang daw, hindi kumakain nang matagal. Tapos, laging nakatungo, nakatanghod, tulala, nakanganga. Ganun si Dodoy. Naaawa si Nenet.

Pansiyam na ngayong araw, gabi, na halos di kumakain si Dodoy. Titikim lang ng konti, wala na. Sabi ni Dyong, pasiyam ngayon ng nanay mo. Basta pasiyam, nag-aalay ang mga namatayan ng pagkain, padasal, palaro. Nililimot ang kalungkutan ng pagkawala ng isang mahal sa buhay. Alam ni Dyong dahil istoawi siya galing sa probinsya. Ganun daw sa kanila kapag ika-siyam na araw ng patay. Kaya dapat huwag nang malungkot si Dodoy.

Walong kutsara ngayon ang solben natin. Magseselebreyt tayo sa pasiyam ng nanay ni Dodoy. Tulad sa probinsya namin. Tapos, tsibog tayo, ha, Doy? Ha?

Siyanga naman, Doy. Sige na. Selebreyt na!

Sige. Bahagyang ngingiti si Dodoy, unang guhit ng ngiti sa kanyang mukha sa loob ng siyam na araw, gabi. Pero sa loob-loob niya, kung alam n'yo lang na hindi sa lungkot kaya ako nagkakaganito… hindi!

Hating kapatid, ha, tigalawang kutsara tayo.

Ay, Dyong, di ba hihintayin tayo ni Mister Pol Hanikom sa Anito?

Alas diyes medya pa yun. Karga muna tayo. Maganda yung kargado ka para mawala yung sakit ng ulo mo at saka hindi hahapdi 'yang sugat. Alam n'yo bang sinabi ni Mister Pol Hanikom na kapag nakakita siya ng isang buong bahay na mauupahan, ititira niya dun si Nenet, kasama tayo, di ba sinabi niya, Net?

Oo, kaya lang… parang natatakot ako, e…

Ito ang langit para kay Dodoy. Mamumula ang kanyang mga mata, mangangapal at mamamanhid ang kanyang balat, maninindig ang kanyang mga balahibo, wari'y mamimimitig ang kanyang mga binti, nagiging maganda ang paligid, nagiging masaya, nagiging paraiso. Yung tambakan, nag-aanyong bundok ng ginto. Ang init ng araw, walang haplit, sumusuko. Ang lamig ng gabi, umaamo, nagiging kaulayaw. Lahat nang pagkain, maski panis, masarap, malinamnam. Nagiging maganda siyang lalaki, hindi sunog ang balat, hindi kinakalyo ang mga palad at apakan, hindi nagluluga ang kaliwang tenga, hindi nananakit ang mga bulok niyang ngipin, gumagara ang malabasahan niyang kasuotan, nagmimistulang anghel sa kagandahan si Nenet…

Si Nanay niya, masaya sa solben, matagal ding gumamit. Siya ang nagturo. Noon una, galit ito. Putang-yawa ka, Dodoy! Masama ang adik-adik. Pero nang dapuan ito ng tebi, pangangati ng katawan at nagsimulang mangayayat, sinubok ang solben, nasarapan ito, naiibsan ang dusa niya. Kaya tuwing uuwi siya, may pasalubong siyang solben at siopao sa nanay niya. Alam na nina Dyong ito.

Naikuwento na rin niya kay Nenet na wala siyang tatay. Galing ng Bohol si Nanay niya, yun ang sabi sa kanya. Hindi alam ni Nenet kung saan ang Bohol. Sabi niya, parte pa rin ng Pilipinas. Nakalakihan niyang may labas-masok na lalaki sa mga natirhan nila sa iskwater hanggang nang makabili ng munting dampa sa tambakan. Greyd wan lang siya. Wala nang lalaking lumapit sa nanay niya. Kailangan na niyang maghanap ng pambili ng pagkain at gamot ng nanay niya. Nang lumalala ang kanyang nanay, panahong nakilala niya sina Dyong. Sa kalsada na rin siya tumira. Ayaw na siyang patulugin ng nanay niya sa dampa. Baka raw mahawa siya. Maski ano'ng gawin niya, hindi niya kayang bilhin ang mga gamot.

Hindi na rin nanghingi ng gamot ang nanay niya. Solben na lang at siopao.

Kwento ka nga, Doy. Magaling kang magkwento, e. Sabi ni Nenet. Magkukuwento siya basta si Nenet.

Kwento yun ng nanay niya, sabi niya, paborito niyang kwento. Ngayon lang niya ikukuwento kay Nenet, kasama na rin sina Dyong at Toto dahil naroroon sila. Kwentong piritil daw, sinauna. Kwento ni Huse Lisar.

Anong Huse Lisar? Huse Risal!

Hagalpakan ng tawa sina Dyong at Toto. Utal, gago! Gusto niyang ma-bad trip pero magkukwento siya kay Nenet. At saka maliit siya, e, hindi niya kaya ang dalawa.

Yun daw kasing gamu-gamo, matigas ang ulo, yung anak, ha, hindi yung ina. Mag-ina, e. Sabi ng ina, mainit yang apoy ng ilaw na de gaas kaya huwag kang maglaro sa malapit na malapit dahil malapit ang aksidente dun. E, ito kasing anak, matigas ang ulo. Isang araw, naglikot siya, hindi sa ilaw kundi dun sa tenga ni Huse…

Risal, gago!

Tapos, sabi ni Nenet.

Di napaigtad si Huse…

Risal, gago!


Natabig ni kuwan yung ilawang de gaas at lumiyab yung mesa. E, sa ilalim ng mesa nakatira ang mag-inang gamu-gamo. Nasunog sila. A, hindi yung anak lang pala ang nasunog muna dahil naghahanap ng pagkain ang ina. Umiyak yung nanay nang malaman ang nangyari sa anak. Tapos, nagpakamatay siya.

Maiiyak si Nenet.

O, pinagtripan mo na naman iyong kuwento. Hindi naman nakakaiyak, e, kuwento ng katangahan iyon, e.

Ilang elarti na ang dumaan.

Wow, halos panabay nilang nauusal kapag may daraan. Natatahimik sila, ninanamnam ang sawns, ang korol.

Dyong, sumakay tayo ng elarti bukas, lambing ni Nenet.

Teka… sige.

Sama kami.

Oo. Pag may nakuha si Nenet mamaya kay Mister Pol Hanikom. Bibili tayo ng tig-isang teysert para hindi tayo nakakahiya.

Bukas na lang tayo pumunta kay Mister…

Ngayon na. Usapan, e.

Mahapdi, e…

Singhot ka nang todo para hay na hay ka, mawawala 'yan. Basta bukas, sasakay tayong lahat sa elarti.

Naalala ni Dodoy yung sinabi ni Dong, yung pagsunog ng bilding.

Oo, kasi ayaw n'yong maniwala. Akala ko kasi noon, mamamatay na si Nenet. Ang ginawa ko, humingi ako ng gas kay Nenet, di ba marami siyang gas na panlinis ng tumitigas na solbent? Yun, sabi ko para sa ilaw natin. Nakikita n'yo yung istasyon dun ng elarti? Dun, sumingit ako noong malapit nang magsara. Nagtago ako. Tapos, nung wala nang elarti, binaybay ko yung tabi ng riles. Pagtapat ko diya sa terd plor, binato ko yung salamin ng bintana. Dun ko ipinasok yung sinindihan kong basahan na babad sa gas. Huwag n'yong ikukuwento sa iba, ha?


Dumalang ang elarti.

Magbihis na tayo, Net.

Atubili si Nenet, nakatingin kina Dodoy at Toto.

Halika na, magagalit si Mister Pol Hanikom, e.

Atubiling tatayo si Nenet, inaalalayan ni Dyong.

Kaya mo ba, Net, hindi na ba masakit ang ulo mo?

Kaya niya.

Doy, huwag ka nang malulungkot, ha? Bobolahin ko si Mister Pol Hanikom para may teysert tayo bukas, tapos sasakay tayo ng elarti at saka kakain tayo ng masasarap. Kumain ka na rin kasi…

Tatango si Dodoy. Umiika si Nenet. Parang gusto niyang pigilan kaya lang baka magalit si Dyong. At saka gusto niya sanang sabihin kay Nenet na hindi naman siya nalulungkot. Dapat nga, magluwag ang kalooban niya dahil lipas na ang paghihirap ng nanay niya. May gusto lang sana siyang ikuwento pa kay Nenet…

Hindi niya alam kung matatanggap ni Nenet. Baka magalit. A, kay Toto na lang muna. Kay Toto na lang…

Matapos bihisan ni Dyong si Nenet at magbihis din siya, lumakad na sila.

Pilit na inaaninag ni Dodoy si Nenet habanag paalis na sila ni Dyong hanggang sa nawala na ang mga ito sa may hagdan. Alam niyang ayaw ni Nenet na pumunta kay Mister… hindi niya mabigkas yung pangalan. Ayaw ni Nenet. Dati, gustung-gusto nito, pero matapos ang unang parada kagabi, narinig niyang nagreklamo si Nenet kay Dyong… hindi naman pala mabait ang parener.

Masasanay ka rin, sabi ni Dyong. Noong una nga, akala natin hindi natin kayang humiga sa kalsada na bilad maghapon, nauulanan pa nga tayo pero nakaya natin. Kaya.

Tuloy ang dyaming nina Dodoy at Toto.

Ikaw, To, asan ang nanay at tatay mo?

Ako… sabihin ko na sa 'yo ang totoo, Doy, wala rin akong tatay, puta rin ang nanay ko. Pero tumigil na.

Asan na siya?

Hindi ko alam. Iniwan niya ako, e. Sabi niya babalik siya. Hintay ako nang hintay dun sa tinitirhan namin dati sa Baclaran, pero hindi na siya bumalik. Putang-ina niya, galit ako sa kanya. Ikaw, Doy, hindi ka ba galit sa nanay mo?

Noon. Ayoko lang yung mga lalaking panay ang pasok sa bahay pag gabi. Ginagalaw nila si Nanay tapos sinisipa ako pag tumitingin ako sa ginagawa nila. Kunwari tulog akong lagi pag may lalaki sa bahay. Kawawa si Nanay…

Tutulo ang luha ni Dodoy. Ngayon lang siya umiyak, ngayong pasiyam. Maiiyak din si Toto.

Galit ako sa nanay ko… pero mahal ko din naman siya kahit na iniwan niya ako…

Madalang na madalang na ang elarti. Kargadong-kargado na sina Dodoy at Toto. Panay pa rin ang singhot nila ng solben. Banat hanggang sa kaya.

To, naniniwala ka ba kay Dyong na siya ang sumunog sa bilding na 'to?

Maniniwala ka rin ba na sinunog ko ang nanay ko?


Sinunog ko si Nanay, To… sinunog ko siya…

Umiiling si Toto. Hindi mo yun magagawa sa nanay mo. Nanay mo yun, e. Hindi ako maniniwala!

Sinunog ko siya, To… sinunong ko yung bahay namin… dinurog ko muna siya ng solben, durog na durog… tapos, nung hay na hay na siya, binuhusan ko yung bahay ng gas… kay Nenet ko rin hiningi yung gas…


Kaya ako hindi makatulog, To… hindi ako makakain… hindi ko malimutan yung sigaw ni Nanay, saka yung amoy ng nasusunog niyang laman… ginawa ko yun kasi awang-awa na ako sa kanya… tuwing uubo siya, may dugo… yung katawan niya, puro nana at butas… nilalangaw siya… pag gabi, kinakain siya ng mga daga… putsa… putsa talaga…

Yuyugyog ang buong katawan ni Dodoy sa kanyang paghagulgol.

Mapapaatras si Toto. Magsusuka nang magsusuka, lalayo.

Samahan mo ako, To. Huwag mo akong iwan dito…

Ayoko na! Bad trip ka! Putang-ina! Tatakbo si Toto, lalamunin ng dilim.

Totodohin ni Dodoy ang pagsinghot sa solben, parang mauubusan, parang hinahabol, kailangan niyang mapuno, mawala para hindi mahabol ng amoy ng nasusunog na laman, ng nakalulunos na sigaw.

Kaginsa-ginsa'y may naulinigan siyang tunog, parang malayong sigaw? Hindi, sawns! Sawns nga! Hayun, tanaw niya ang papalapit na elarti. Andaming korol.

Tatayo si Dodoy, hahakbang sa hanggahan ng palapag. Sasakay ako sa elarti, mauuna ako sa kanila… hindi nila ako mahahabol. Guguhit ang ngiti sa kanyang mukha.

Bago tumapat sa gusali ang rumaragasang dambuhalang uod ay lumipad na si Dodoy… sa magpakailanman.



Si Nenet, namatay sa impeksyon ng kanyang maselang parte.
Si Toto, nasa sentro ng rehabilitasyon para sa mga adik.
Si Dyong, inampon, sabi'y inasawa ni Mister Paul Honeycombe. Nasa Ostralya na sila.

Our Death, In Memoriam

By Lav Diaz

In November 30, 2006, super typhoon Reming (international name: Durian) struck the Philippines killing hundreds of people and burying villages around the Mayon volcano area in the Bicol region. Nine hours of relentless heavy rain and wind caused harrowing deaths and destruction. Volcanic debris, boulders, sand and mudflows covered the once verdant and serene place. The sight of the aftermath was apocalyptic. The typhoon was the strongest to hit the Philippines in living memory.

Two weeks before the typhoon struck, I wrapped the four-month shoot of Heremias Book Two in the very same places that the typhoon destroyed. A good part of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino was also shot there three years ago. I've become so attached to the place. I didn't realize the magnitude of the devastation till I had gained enough courage to visit the place a week later. The places where we shot scenes were all in ruins; the roads were gone, the houses were either buried or torn to pieces, structures collapsed. It was unbelievable; horrifying. Gloom and sorrow were all over the place. The smell of death was hovering in every corner, even in sleep and in dreams. You could hear hapless wails in the dead of the night, names being screamed and cried out. People were digging, or just walking aimlessly, looking for loved ones; people were burying loved ones; people were going insane; people were numbed by so much pain. And help was late in coming. The system is so neglectful and so corrupt. I got hold of my camera and with the help of two, three friends living in the area, I started shooting I don't know what yet then. A documentary? Maybe just a recording, a reportage (For whom? For myself? I just felt I had to do something.)? I just started interviewing and shooting. After a week of frenzied and relentless shoot, I watched the footage. And I decided to write a story. I decided to make a film, a memoriam, and share it to the world; share our grief. It's the only thing I can do and contribute to all the madness. I created three characters and just like in my last shoots (Ebolusyon and Heremias Book Two), I reckoned, the process would be very organic. I will write the story as we shoot; do improv method; we will discover things through the process. And so, for the next five weeks, we were shooting nonstop in the most devastated areas, specifically the village of Padang. Padang is Pompeii. In one sweep, water, sand and boulders rolled down the volcano and the village is gone. I wrote scripts/dialogue/instructions before a scene was shot. I invited three theater actors, a painter and local non-actors to play the parts. Three local friends became the crew and staff. A friend's house became our production house. The shoot was both harrowing and liberating for us. It was always raining. We wept, embraced whatever sorrow can give us, we can't help it; actors were breaking down; we had had discourses of what happened but most of the time, individually, we struggled in silence trying to reconcile everything. One actor, a medium, could actually see the suffering spirits. We were shooting over buried houses, over dead bodies. We were purging our own demons. It was a journey into the deepest melancholia of existence.

The film's discourse is on the death of beauty, death of aesthetics, how things can turn ugly. I borrow Rainer Maria Rilke's line from his Duino Elegy I: “Beauty is the beginning of terror.” How true and honest.

The great and beautiful Mayon Volcano is a metaphor for the argument. Mayon is the only volcano in the world with the most perfect cone. The resilient locals, called Bicolanos, refer to it as Daragang Magayon (beautiful maiden). On a sunny or clear day, the sight of Mayon is just majestic, perfect and heavenly in all angles. On a cloudy day, you would long and wait for her to peek from within the cumulus covers. But it is also one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest, volcanoes in the planet. In 1814, during the Spanish era in the Philippines, it unleashed its havoc and buried the surrounding towns with rocks and lava. The memory of that event still haunts the locals. They continue to tell stories, myths and legends about the event. Artists continue to be inspired and create works from the memory. They have a beautiful park, called Cagsawa, created from the ruins to remind them always. And in an ironic twist, Mayon just simply destroyed the park that is so faithfully dedicated to her beauty. Beauty rears its ugly head, so to speak, killing those who prepare the `makeup and production design'. Or, the pursuit of aesthetics can be very devastating and horrifying, e.g. Vincent Van Gogh, or think of Kurt Cobain and Mark Chapman, great metaphors on the irony of the pursuit for aesthetics.

The story that grew and evolved during the six-week-shoot revolves on the return of the great Filipino poet, Benjamin Agusan, to his birthplace, Padang, now buried. He was in Russia, in an old town called Kaluga, the past seven years, living there on a grant and a residency, taught and conducted workshops in a university. He kept writing poetry; published two books of sadness and longing in the process. He was shooting video collages, fell in love with a Slavic beauty, buried a son, and almost went mad. He came back to bury his dead—father, mother, sister and a lover. He came back to confront some issues, to face secrets, to heal wounds, or create more wounds. He came back to face Mayon, the raging beauty and muse of his youth. He came home to confront the country that he so loved and hated, the Philippines. He came back to die. In the backdrop are his friends, nemesis and a son. His return is an aesthetic journey.

From KINO Magazine, Slovenia. Notes written by Lav Diaz for his film Death in the Land of Encantos

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Melancholia sa Melancholia

Ni Rolando Tolentino

MANILA — Sa mga rebyu ng Melancholia, laging dinidiin ang kalungkutan na pumapaimbalot sa mga buhay ng tauhan, ng produksyon ng sining at katotohanan sa gitna ng matinding politikal na panunupil ng komersyal na cinema (negosyo) at ng gobyerno. Ang huling dalawa ang bumubuo ng estado ng bansa, ang black hole na humihigop sa lahat ng mga anak at mamamayan nito sa pagdalumat sa kolektibo at individual na buhay bilang kalungkutan.

Tatlo ang pangunahing seksyon ng Melancholia: ang una, sa Sagada, magtatagpo ang isang madre, bugaw at puta na pinag-ugnay ng nakaraan bilang naiwan ng politikal na pinaslang o inaasahang patay na; ang ikalawa, sa Maynila, ang bugaw ay naging publisher, ang puta naging prinsipal ng eskwelahan; at panghuli, sa gubat sa Mindoro, isang rebolusyonaryo, asawa ng puta sa una, ang mamamatay sa digmaan. May epilogo, ang paghahanap ng balo ng rebolusyonaryo sa kadiliman ng parke sa syudad.
Melancholia ang pakiwari sa panonood ng pelikula. Ang melancholia ay isang mental state, ng hindi lubos na pag-usad dahil nabalaho sa isang bagay (tao o pangyayari) na hindi makalimutan, ayaw ilibing ang patay. Kung gayon, melancholic ang Melancholia, mayroon itong hindi inililibing sa kolektibong kamalayan ng mga tauhan nito.

Paano maglibing ng isang desaparecidos? Walang bangkay pero hindi matuldukan ang pagkawala? Na ang bawat pangungulila ay paggunita sa kapasidad ng pag-alaala, na siyang binubura ng pagdanas ng politikal na pagpaslang o pandurukot ng estado sa mga aktibista at rebolusyonaryo nito? Ito ang kapasidad na makapaglikha ng alternatibong imahinaryo, kaya iniimpit ng estado ng nakaraan at kasalukuyan.

O ang mismong rebolusyonaryong proyektong nagbibigay ng radikal na lagusan sa lahat ng ito? Sinasaad ng pelikula, ang gitnang uring kalungkutan ng individual at kolektibo sa pakikibaka ang bumabalaho sa posibilidad ng pag-ungos ng rebolusyonaryong pakikibaka. Ito o ang sikliko ng panunupil ng mga nanunungkulan sa gobyerno at interes ng negosyong higit na nakakapagtiyak ng kolektibong kalungkutan para sa dinudustang nakararami.

Ang proyekto ng Melancholia ay hindi ilibing ang patay. Ibuyanyang ito sa pamamagitan ng pagdanas ng epekto sa mga naiwang buhay, kung paano ito ay sustenidong pamana ng dekada at siglo ng panunupil ng estado. Tulad ng mga naunang pelikula ni Lav Diaz, polemikal ang paglalahad ng naratibo bilang bahagi ng mas malaking diskurso at pagninilay-nilay sa sining at politika.

Hindi kayang palitan ng identidad at lunan ang batayang pagkatao na dumadanas ng kalungkutan ng estado. Ito ang malawakang panahon at malalimang kasaysayang nagbibigay-epekto sa kolektibong pagkatao. Dala-dala ng mga tauhan, sa kaibuturan ng kanilang pagkatao, ang kolektibong kalungkutan ng estado. At ito ang malawakang self-reflexivity na undertaking ng mga pelikula ni Diaz: ang ating pinapanood (ang pelikula) ay ang dating na may sumpang hindi kailanman mapagpag-pagpag (ang mismong melancholia).

Hindi pagtunghay sa kalungkutan ang proyekto ng Melancholia. Kung ito, di sana ay nalungkot tayo sa panonood ng pito at kalahating oras na pelikula. Ito ang kanyang polemiko. Ang tinutunghayan natin ay ang filmikong produksyon ng melancholia ng mga tauhan bilang bukal ng identifikasyon sa melancholia ng manonood at mamamayan—na ang sinisiwalat na “katotohanan” sa pelikula ay ang referensiya sa historikal na katotohanan ng mamamayan.

Nananatiling natatangi ang mga pelikula ni Diaz dahil ginagawang kasiya-siya ang politikal bilang lagusan ng kontra-politikang kasiyahan laban sa estado ng gobyerno at negosyo. Sa kulturang popular ng malling, Facebook, 24/7 na estabilisymento para sa libo-libong call center agents sa bansa, nilulusaw ng estado ang politikal sa individual. Sa ritwalisasyon at rehimentasyon ng buhay, tinatanggap na lamang ang kalungkutan bilang batayan ng konsumpsyon at kasiyahan.

Na ang ibinubuyanyang na hibla sa Melancholia ay nasa rebolusyon ang katotohanan: figuratibo at literal na pakikipagdigma. Kung wala itong paninidigan, walang katotohanan sa sining at politikal, na gaya ng formulasyon ng pelikula, walang katotohanan maliban sa karanasan sa kalungkutan. Naghahanap lang tayo ng multong hindi mailibing sa kadiliman at kalawakan ng parke, mall, Internet at iba pang sityo ng dustang buhay.

Melancholia: Philippine cinema as meditation and metaphysics

By Lito B. Zulueta

Lav Diaz’s Melancholia provides a sweeping fillip and summing-up to the aesthetics he has stubbornly maintained and that has always baffled audiences. A mordant movie that is part pastorale, part meditation, and part social commentary, there is no other film like it, except for the previous movies he has done— sweeping narrative movies that seem determined to break the standard idea of a regular feature movie that’s all but told in just 90 minutes more or less.

But unlike in his previous movies where the narrative seems a recasting of the picaresque, Melancholia, Diaz dispenses with the narrative trajectory altogether, leaving the viewer on tenterhooks but still with a modicum of familiarity with its most basic story line revolving around three characters—a hooker, a pimp and a nun. All of them seem wounded by grief over the deaths of communist rebel friends who had been dashed and killed either by the insurgency conflict or by natural calamity. Everyone is held by the memory of death and destruction.

All of eight hours, Melancholia is an extended mining of memories and insights, the masochism of the exercise somehow alleviated by the contemplative mood and the sprawling bucolic romp that’s vintage Lav Diaz iconology. Some among the viewers may impatiently complain that Diaz should have shown rather than told, but the aesthetic he has mastered along this line shirks any postcard-pretty representation: if there’s any image-making here, it is more of an evocation, the tracing of an aura that hovers between reality and unreality.

After all, how does one really deal with pain and suffering? If violence and death are as perennial as the grass—as unerringly present in the evergreen forests as they are a regular in the headlines of metropolitan newspapers—how does one cope with them? In the world of Lav Diaz, death is no respecter of geographies or political causes: one meets it in both the urban jungle and the rural sprawl, one dies because of a calamity of nature or a calamity of conflict, and those left behind are left with the destiny of grasping and groping for meaning in the midst of the utter meaninglessness of it all. Melancholia is not a mood, it’s a movie of meaning and worth; it’s a cinema of powerful signification.

A Speech for the 8th Italian Film Festival

By Lav Diaz

This piece will not be long. I timed it. It shall be just two minutes.

Okay, it will be a little bit longer. I am writing this piece in a very organic way, no apologies-stream of consciousness manner. This is free cinema.

I hate speeches to be very honest. Besides an incurable stage freight, I would rather much prefer to just play guitar with my back behind the crowd or be behind the camera than talk in front of people who would just be hearing another fool’s hyperbole and self-important chatter.

I received this request to deliver a speech here as a guest of honor.

What on earth is a guest of honor? Have you checked my background? The Board of Censors here in the Philippines banned my films, my two films that won at the Orizzonti of the Venice Film Festival. There’s nudity and sex, they said. Without proper critical viewing of my films by the honorable members of the Board of Censors, they deemed the films not appropriate for viewing here in their country of origin. They banned other works, too. And lately, they have been encroaching on the freedom of venues like the Adarna Theatre of the University of the Philippines. Benito Mussolini must be very proud.

I’ll say it again. Censorship is poison to cinema. Censorship is poison to the arts. Censorship is poison to culture. Censorship is a very feudal act. It is fascism.

The invitation also says that I should talk about my Venice experience. So, here’s a piece from a Filipino independent pornography filmmaker.

First, I would like to congratulate the 8th edition of the Italian Film Festival here in our beloved battered Philippines.

The Venice Film Festival or the Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia is the Mother of film festivals. It is the oldest film festival in the world. This tradition of mounting film festivals had its beginning in Venice, Italy in 1932. In 1952, the first Filipino film to compete, Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, exhibited in Venice. In 1985, Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. was shown at the festival. And in 2007, my film Death in the Land of Encantos competed and won Special Mention at the Orizzonti section of the festival. The following year, in 2008, my film Melancholia, competed in the same section and won the Orizzonti Prize. This year, Briliante Mendoza’s Lola was a Philippine entry at the Main Competition and Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro coveted two prizes, the Orizzonti Prize and the Luigi di Laurentii Lion of the Future Prize. Despite the dearth of our participation in the seventy six years existence of the Mostra, only six films to date, we have had a very triumphant and respectable run. Long live, Philippine cinema, indeed! And I would like to point out that despite the absence of state support in our cultural struggle, in the state’s sheer ignorance on the very important role of the arts in educating our people, cultural workers, especially artists and activists, persevere in pursuing greater discourse and praxis in this vast wasteland called the Philippines.

A Venice attendance is every filmmaker’s dream. If you are into aesthetic exercise, world cinema offers a load of great and incendiary works. And if you have celebrity skin, Hollywood’s killer vanity and fashion’s hallucinatory sheen is just everywhere. You can check the stately hotel where Thomas Mann wrote Death in Venice. A walk in Venice is a time machine ride with its old structures, art centers and canals. A boat ride is a rock ‘n roll experience.

More than the festivities and the city, Italy gave the world its great cinema culture. Roberto Rossellini, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio de Sica, Ermanno Olmi, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sergio Leone. That venerable list is continued by modern auteurs like Gianni Amelio, Giuseppe Tornatore, Marco Bellocchio, Paolo Sorrentino, Gabriele Salvatores and a lot more.

Italian cinema has given us many of the greatest models and paradigms--Open City, Paisan, Stromboli, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’eclisse, The Leopard, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 8 ½, La Dolce Vita, Umberto D., Bicycle Thief, The Conformist, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, L’America. These works are incomparable masterpeices. These works set the standard by which the greater aesthetic discourse in cinema will continue to be measured upon till cinema is not dead. Yes, cinema will not die. We have Italian Cinema. Cinema will not die, we have Philippine cinema.

In one interview, Antonioni said: "I would not want to say. Or perhaps I do not know."

And I want to say this, allow me please: “Fuck profit motive in cinema!”

We just hope that this year’s edition will measure up to the greater tradition of cinema.

I will forever honor the memory of the great martyr, Alexis Tioseco… for the struggle toward a greater Philippine Cinema. Nika Bohinc will forever be in our hearts.

Again, mabuhay to the 8th year of the Italian Film Festival.

Salamat po.

(Read by Angeli Bayani, lead actress of Death in the Land of Encantos and Melancholia, during the Opening Ceremonies of the 8th Italian Film Festival in Manila, October 14, 2009)