Sa Pagitan ng Pagdalaw at Paglimot – Liryc de la Cruz (2015)

After having worked with Lav Diaz on several projects, Liryc de la Cruz is embarking on his own filmmaking career. His short film “Sa Pagitan ng Pagdalaw at Paglimot” was selected for the short film section at this year’s Locarno Film Festival as one of only two Filipino films. Only recently, I had an issue with putting down thoughts on Martin Edralin’s short HolePagitan is similar. It’s a film that needs to be seen. I more and more feel the limits of my own creation – blogs on which I can write about films, which are often so good that I would much rather not write about because words ruin the experience.

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Pagitan is about memory, about forgetting, about searching. Perhaps about absence. The film draws you in with a voice over of a woman: “Along with letting go of the memories, is to go back to the past and the things we used to do.” It’s a simple statement, but because it is so simple it’s rarely made. The black screen we see allows us to focus entirely on the woman’s voice, a soft voice, with a hint of melancholy. The voice sets the tone for the rest of the film. It introduces us to Pagitan’s world, which is minimal, contemplative, empty. The latter is by no means negative.

On the contrary, Liryc de la Cruz has made use of vast empty landscapes and only a single character in order to create a minimalist, but expressive portrait. Once the black screen is replaced by imagery, the strong voice-over still lingers in one’s head. We infuse the reading of the images with the woman’s statements on memory. Pagitan is shot in black-and-white. The contrast stresses every detail we see in the frames. At first, we’re positioned behind vegetation. A woman, presumably searching for something or someone, approaches the camera, but doesn’t acknowledge it. She’s distracted, she’s looking for something. But what is she looking for, for her memories?

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What I find particularly interesting in this short film is the camerawork. We’re not speaking about a static camera. Instead, the camera is moving ever so slightly. It has a dream-like aesthetic to it. It is not intrusive in its movement. Nor does it makes us feel like a voyeur. It’s smooth. It’s there and yet almost not noticeable because it looks so natural. You kind of swing with it. Like Diaz, de la Cruz is using long-takes of at times beautiful scenery. This temporal aspect means one has the time to be with the character, to be with the young woman during her search. It allows us time to just be, to let the film happen to us. Contrary to his mentor, as I would describe Diaz in this context, de la Cruz does not turn his film into a hardcore treatment of psychology and history. Perhaps, this may come in future. Perhaps not. As far as I can see, Liryc is very much developing his own approach to filmmaking.

Pagitan is rather a more minimalist investigation into memory and forgetting – without philosophical discourse, without much talk. Pagitan is very much an experience. All the film asks of us is to be there, and to be – a brave, and wonderful debut by an upcoming Filipino filmmaker.

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Manila, in the Claws of Light – Lino Brocka (1975)

Viewing Film

It’s been a while that I have seen Lino Brocka’s great Insiang (1976). I always wanted to return to his work, but I also know that he was quite a difficult director to follow, because he produced both arthouse and mainstream films. So for me, as someone not being directly from the Philippines, it’s a hit-and-miss with his films, even though I know the apparently standard works. Now that the Cinematek in Brussels is putting together a Lav Diaz retrospective, I was reminded again that I had to watch Brocka’s Manila, in the Claws of Light (1975), which, according to Diaz himself, had a huge influence on him personally. Diaz became a filmmaker because of Brocka, because of what he had seen, and because he realised that film could be a valuable political tool against governmental oppression.

Brocka’s Manila is a strong piece of work. Aesthetically, the film is far…

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Interview with Jet Leyco (2015)

Just after I reviewed his film Leave it for tomorrow, for night has fallen (2013), I asked Jet whether he was willing to answer a couple questions. He’s been busy preparing his new film, so this may come a bit late. Nevertheless, I’m immensely grateful for Jet to have taken the time and it’s a superb start to this new project. I hope that his new film makes its way to Europe in future.

NM: Leave it for tomorrow, for night has fallen – What’s the meaning of the title?

JL: It all started in my childhood, I used to ask my mom what happened to my grandparents. She always answered “bukas na lang sapagkat gabi na” which translates to “leave it for tomorrow for night has fallen” or something like, sleep now, let’s talk about it some other time. A harmless dismissal to evade my question, but it foreboded a deeper curiosity, a feeling that something seemed hidden.

I finally got the answer to it though, both of my grandparents died in an accident. Grandfather died in a dynamite fishing incident, my grandmother died in a hit-and-run by a truck. That’s the story I was told, but the hesitation they took to answer it lingered in me.

NM: The Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos is the backdrop to your film. With that, you’re one of a group of contemporary filmmakers in the Philippines who use the cinematic medium to explore traumatic times and events. Where does your interest in this time period come from?

JL: I was born in 1986, months after the Marcos dictatorship fell. My mother and relatives talked about it (Martial Law) all the time. I have no vivid vision of the past but their endless conversation stayed with me until I became a filmmaker, until I read the books, watched films (lots of films were made during and about Martial Law, see Kisapmata, Batch 81), and talked to people who had been a part of it, it greatly interested me. And I thought it’s time to create a story told by a man who’s not been a part, but strongly affected by history.

Also, there’s a book called DESAPARECIDOS (Lualhati Bautista) and GERILYA (Norman Wilwayco my co-writer) which influenced me a lot, and gave a full idea of the Martial Law era and the revolutionary movement.

NM: Do you feel as if you have a responsibility as a filmmaker to explore this part of history?

JL: As part of the younger generation, to explore this part of history is important and essential. The responsibility to engage them in questioning their past or to question the truth, whether history repeats itself or not, the present socio-political context of our country and the state of our people.

I guess, as a filmmaker influenced by the works about Martial Law and faced with this revision happening in our country’s history now, (the Marcos(es) and Martial Law is projected in a positive pedestal) I really should speak out through my films to maybe serve as a reminder or a simple footnote that the present cannot (or should not) escape its past.

NM: Your film feels like a very long dream, a nightmare, in fact. Perhaps a hallucination. Is this the way the Martial Law is seen as in the Philippines?

JL: For some people it’s like a nightmare, for some it’s a dream. It depends on the people you talk to. Some agree or support Martial Law, some condemn it. Lots of people try to revise the past.

NM: You have chosen a strong mixture of several aesthetics. The film is unlike anything I have seen.

JL: I’m not sure how to put this, but I guess its part of my process, my personality, the images changes from pre-production to post-production, its continuous, even after the film is done.

NM: Leave it for tomorrow is a fairly slow film in regards to the narrative progression and the long-takes you have used. What is the rationale behind this slowness?

JL: I can’t consider/label my film as slow film or slow cinema. I just shoot it the way I feel it. The way the story goes or the character journey. It’s a form of immersion or being the thrown in the film itself.

NM: In the credits, I could pick up the names of Lav Diaz and Raya Martin. What is your relationship to them? Have they influenced your filmmaking?

JL: I’ve been an intern for Lav Diaz when I was in college. I’ve been a part of Melancholia (2008) as production assistant and a bit role. I learned a lot from him. Almost, all the things I need to know about alternative cinema, I got it from him. He also introduced the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

Raya is a friend of mine. We met in 2008, in a Lav Diaz shoot. We always hang out if there’s time, and in that particular time, we talk more about life than cinema.

NM: This is the second film of yours which has a harrowing nature to it. I haven’t seen Ex Press yet but I read about it. It seems to be a trademark of your films. What are your plans for the future? Are you working on a new film already?

JL: Yes, we are currently in pre-production of my third feature and will begin shooting next week in the same location where we shot Leave it For Tomorrow for Night has Fallen.

The title is Town In A Lake (Matangtubig).

Leave it for tomorrow… – Jet Leyco (2013)

— Reposted from The Art(s) of Slow Cinema, 16 February 2014 —

How much I longed to see this film! Huge thanks goes to the director, Jet Leyco, who also agreed to answer a couple of questions about his film.

In some ways, I’m still debating with myself whether or not the film can be regarded as Slow Cinema. It’s precisely the limits of the term and the previously held debate around it that leaves me with a feeling of uncertainty. Yet, this film is “slow”. No, it doesn’t fit the usual criteria, but I have argued about the limits several times before and this is why I have decided to put up a comment on the film on this blog. Leave it for tomorrow is not Slow Cinema in its original terms. I’m somewhat inclined to say that the film is a new form of it. Or rather, it broadens the scope of Slow Cinema.

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Regardless of the validity of the term, though, Jet Leyco has created a powerful and mind-blowing film. A thought-provoking work about memory and suppression of memory. About the way the past comes back haunting you. There is no such thing as successful suppression. One day, memories will resurface; a process that is often slow and takes a long time to complete. Leave it for tomorrow adds to the current output of Filipino independent filmmakers, who use the cinematic medium to comment on or rewrite history. It is a film that adds to the oeuvres of Raya Martin and Lav Diaz, who are known for their aim of tackling the country’s past. It is easy to follow the examples of Martin and Diaz, but Leyco has managed to carve an aesthetic niche for himself, if you will. The themes of those three directors are similar, if not more or less identical in a way, yet they couldn’t be more different in their aesthetics.

It’s the first time that I slip into really sloppy language here, but I cannot describe the film better than “a slow mindfuck”. And this is entirely positive, I swear. I haven’t seen such a powerful film for quite some time. Leyco has created strong visual tableaus, switching smoothly between colour, sepia and black-and-white. At times he denies the viewer access to visuals and wants him to listen. He plays with our expectations, for example by disrupting the convenient method of showing the character who speaks. Instead, in a lengthy dialogue between members of a rebel gang, Leyco always cuts away and shows us a listening character. I’m not completely unfamiliar with this. In Leyco’s film, however, it was abrupt, thus making it force- and powerful.

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I know that quite a bit has been written about the use of sound in the film. This is because Leyco uses Star Wars-esque sound effects in most sequences when characters shoot one another. It has a comic effect, but to me it is also (once more) a game on our expectations. We expect violent fights, we expect pure realism. But Leyco is not giving it to us. He’s holding us hostage. He puts us on a leash, and we have to follow him, wherever he takes us. Also, the special effects can be a comment on how we see the past, especially a violent past: as a movie. This is – unfortunately – how many people learn about historical events; with the help of major blockbuster productions, full of special effects.

Particularly remarkable is Leyco’s play with absence in the film. It has a ghost-like, eery feeling. Is memory death? Is memory a ghost? It could be. Without being able to touch it, to see it in its real shape, memory is always there. The ending of the film is a powerful statement on this. You can’t find a better metaphor for it than the use of zombies.

I could write lots more about this hugely interesting film. But as I try to refrain from saying too much about the content (I don’t want to spoil it for you), I should better stop and let Leyco do the talking in a few week’s time. Stay tuned!