by Heinrich Domingo
Like a prophet who first gained recognition in a foreign land, Lav Diaz comes back to the Philippines with the highly-coveted Locarno’s Golden Leopard. In the international scene, his work was praised, his style applauded, and his narrative explored. Diaz’ films were treated as transcendent over those of the Western style. His work was not governed by theories and structures. But, as he presents this gleaming token to the Filipino audience, he was faced with an indifferent crowd that reeks of the West.
From What Is Before (Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon) bested a handful of movies in the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival. The jury saw that Diaz treats cinema as an organic medium capturing the unadulterated continuum of his people’s plight. In his lens, viewers are mesmerized in a trance-like presentation of life’s reality. Diaz was glorified for creating beyond what sells.
The five and a half hour movie tells the story of a poor barrio in the Philippines as Marcos’ Martial Law plagues the land. It ventures on the economic, religious, and social changes that slowly dry up the once fertile land. This plague leaves sullen people with no choice but to fight for survival.
One significant element in Lav Diaz’s story-telling is time or its lack thereof. He uses his roots through looking back at the Malay/Filipino concept of time being natural and uncontrolled. Diaz believes that the entry of the West conquered our once pristine view of life. We once defined time as “panahon” in which daily lives are stationary. In those times, people are awakened by the sun’s rays and are lullabied by the moon’s shadow. No deadlines. No haste. Using the cinema’s language, there is no cap time and no pressure from the commercial demands of the producers.
Diaz’s kind of story-telling gained approval from its A-list critics because it provided them a new perspective – one that does not settle comfortably in the chest of montage and other film techniques. Yet, in the Philippines, the unfamiliar film treatment transforms the ingenious movie into an obsolete artifact. The colonial mentality of the people has ruined their ability to see beauty in things other than popularity. This results in the monopoly of the definition of a good movie.
As Lav brings home the movie recipe he has perfected, he is (un)welcomed by majority of the Filipino crowd who have their mouths already full of run-of-the-mill American grease.
From What Is Before; Norte, The End of History; Melancholia, and many other films of Diaz have been exhausted by the Western cinephiles. They have been stripped off of their sequences and story-lines revealing true work of philosophy and literature. Judgments, reviews, and criticisms. After being butchered, they are passed on to Filipinos with the thought that the latter knows what to do. Despite getting the leftovers, Filipinos remain to be ignoramus of the beauty of its own countryman’s opus.
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