‘Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis’ (Lav Diaz, 2016): necessary fiction

In Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic, our nation is a country imagined in monochrome.

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Las Islas Filipinas, according to Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), is a nation imagined in monochrome. It is the same vistas: cities of colonial architecture, endless coastlines of soothing seas, and forests of tropical green. Yet, it is not the same images: we see all these filtered in shades of black and white.

In similar fashion, the stories that Hele tells are not tales as they ordinarily are—because the massive ambition of Lav Diaz, the central conceit of his project, is the interweaving of the historical, the literary, and the fantastic.

Let us count Hele‘s narrative threads, all set at the turn of the end of the 19th century, during the Philippine Revolution from Spanish rule.

Note: this essay is not so much a critical review as it is a reading of this film and a commentary, so it necessarily shares plot and characterization details.

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‘Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa’ by Virgilio Almario

Virgilio Almario’s Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa is an enlightening, inspiring, and authoritative collection of essays on Philippine history, language and literature.

Many have lamented that José Rizal wrote much for a nation that does not like to read. Strictly speaking however, that is not true, because all Filipinos do love to read—tweets, Facebook updates, and anything immediately entertaining, but seldom the ‘valuable’ material, that is. Among these treasures waiting to be appreciated are the works of our venerable National Artists for Literature. Guilt for this is perhaps one of the things that drove me, while browsing Filipiniana in a Powerbooks branch, to pick up Virgilio Almario’s Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa: O Bakit Pinakamahabang Tulay sa Buong Mundo ang Tulay Calumpit.

Muling-Pagkatha is an enlightening and inspiring collection of essays on Philippine history, language and literature. The topics touched upon are rather wide in scope, yet Almario convincingly and authoritatively presents his case for a renewed perspective on each topic.

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Bonifacio

I admit to not knowing a lot about Andrés Bonifacio. With José Rizal as the de facto official national hero, it seems he’s always only second place, an alternative subject, for the masterpieces of our popular culture. I’m recalling Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s 1998 Rizal biopic here; thanks to that film, I grew up with an elegant idea of who Rizal was. Bonifacio’s legacy does not have that luxury.

If anyone’s so inclined as to try to piece together a cohesive idea of Bonifacio’s life through cultural products, she will have to do so using wildly contradicting sources. From what I heard, the Cinemalayà 2010 entry Ang Paglilitis ni Andrés Bonifacio by Mario O’Hara was a respectable, and respectful, portrayal of the hero’s life, although it focused on a specific era of his life. The problem was that, being an independently-produced movie, it was inaccessible. I didn’t see it myself and neither did most other Filipinos. On the other hand, the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival entry El Presidente had Bonifacio as a supporting character, and in an atrocious wielding of artistic license as could only happen in Philippine mainstream media, they turned the hero into an arrogant antagonist to the titular character. This understandably angered not a few concerned citizens, especially because, being an MMFF entry, many unconcerned citizens saw the movie and probably now think of the great Katipunero as an arrogant hothead.

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