‘El viaje de Carol’, wars and dictatorships

Timely, relevant film screenings, about the Spanish civil war, offer reflections on our country’s concerns.

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The history of the Spanish motherland occupies no chapter in the standard Filipino education. Our history classes, of course, say much about the role of Spaniards in our archipelago’s colonization and eventual emergence as an independent nation. But the focus lies on the actions of insulares and peninsulares, the Spaniards who lived in our islands. Not much is told about the affairs of faraway España, and we all but forget our European connections after the American takeover in the time of Heneral Luna.

This July, the Instituto Cervantes de Manila (the Spanish government agency tasked with the promotion of Hispanic culture) is holding a series of film exhibitions entitled La España del Guernica (The Spain of the Guernica). The official aim of the project is “to offer a cinematic vision of the turbulent Spain of the decade.” The decade referred to is the 1930s, the latter years of which witnessed the tumultuous Spanish Civil War. This particular period of Spanish history remains little-known to Filipinos, but it certainly offers a few points for reflection on our own country’s current concerns, as I will claim later.

About the theme of the film series: Guernica is a town in the Basque region of Spain that suffered a horrific aerial bombing in April 1937, in the middle of the civil war. The raid was carried out by the air forces of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, who were then allied with the Nationalist faction in Spain. The terrors of the incident became the subject of Pablo Picasso’s seminal work, simply entitled Guernica, which has been called the “most famous [artwork] ever produced on the subject of war.” (“Eighty years on, Spain may at last be able to confront the ghosts of civil war”, The Guardian.) The painting was first unveiled to the public on July 12, 1937, only a few days away from the first anniversary of the conflict. La España del Guernica commemorates the 80th anniversary of this unveiling, and the 81st of the war; as the painting captured the various faces of war on canvas, so did this collection of films, only cinematically.

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‘Tu Pug Imatuy’ (2017): life and death in ancestral lands

The film’s story and style is strongly reminiscent of certain Hollywood films, but it is firmly grounded in its lumad context and concerns.

Despite running for only 90 minutes, Tu Pug Imatuy (‘The Right to Kill’) delivers the experience of an epic. It manages this partly by alternating between quiet, lingering moments, and thrilling, kinetic sequences. But more importantly, the film exhibits a layered story—it is, at once, an ethnographic documentary, a primer on pressing social issues, and, without glorifying violence, something of a survival adventure.

Note: this film analysis includes details of plot, or ‘spoilers’. It is written primarily for those who have seen the film.

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

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

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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On EDSA

I cannot claim personal significance on the EDSA People Power Revolution, which took place nearly six years before I was born. My parents could’ve joined the protests during those fateful days in February 1986, but they didn’t; my mother was explicitly ordered by my grandfather to stay home for her own safety. Interestingly, my grandfather was actually a police officer working in Quezon City then. As to why I haven’t heard of any story yet about what he did in those days, I just assume that there really is none—that he simply stayed out of trouble, which would be in theme with all the other stories my mother has told me about him.

That’s no reason for me to ignore history, however. No one in my extended family suffered human rights violations under Martial Law, but that either means we were lucky, or that they were just apathetic enough that they were never a concern for the offenders. I cannot blame them. I can’t tell what I would’ve done myself if I lived back then. But now, the essays, stories, and films on the subject collectively paint a picture of an era that should’ve incited more anger and more protests from everyone who had a conscience.

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