‘Ang Babaeng Humayo’ (Lav Diaz, 2016): time and solace and sorrow

Lav Diaz, inspired by Leo Tolstoy, delivers another distinct portrayal of life’s pains and suffering, as well as its quiet joys.

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The manipulation of time is the soul of Lav Diaz’s artistry. As many writers have noted, time is Diaz’s instrument of exchange with his audience: the viewers surrender their precious hours for his films, in exchange for glimpses at truths of the world and humanity, and insights into the fabled human condition. It is not merely about the unconventionally epic lengths of his works, which is apparent enough, but also his penchant for protracted, steady gazes. In the spectrum of pacing in cinema, Diaz’s works occupy the extremity opposite the dizzying, rushed rhythm of Hollywood action flicks.

Lav Diaz manipulates time in this manner often to express both solace and sorrow. In Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), this takes particular resonance. It is the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a schoolteacher who is imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Her name itself derives from the Latin hora, signifying hour, or time.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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A sense of time

Are we helpless in the eternal slippery march of time from present to past?

If one is feeling philosophical, one might be inclined to ponder the most basic features of our reality: space and time, the dimensions, for instance. One might then discover that these fundamental things, or objects or constructs, could be blamed for the struggles of people—the human condition, as they say.

Let us look at space. Distance is the backbone of so much human drama. It is the element present in conflicts of various genres: in romance, lovers yearn for closeness; in adventures, man attempts to overcome nature by reaching for the stars; in war, kings and generals win battles through the brilliant use of territories.

But between space and time, it is clearly the latter that is the subject of greater mystery, and deeper struggles.

While in space we are free to move forward, backward, higher, lower, and so on, under time we are in a tyranny. The future is always out of reach, the present is fleeting, and moments are always slipping into the past. Given unlimited time we could conquer any imaginable amount of space; but even with the seemingly boundless space that we have on earth and beyond, time remains invincible, unsurmountable.

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