Thursday, June 18

Independencia (Philippines, 2009)

Independencia plays like Cocteau Twins' Blue Bell Knoll, form and pattern are forefront while the rest---actors, dialogue, chickens---drift like ambient noise, the swirling layers of synthesizers if you will that wall the experience within the confines of cinema. Independencia aims to capture the cinematic style of the period it depicts, here, the 35 mm films shot entirely in sound stages during the American occupation in the 1900s.

Free Form: A short rambling on history and why Jose Nepomuceno and co. are probably throwing a party in filmmaker heaven

The first picture with sound reached the Philippines in 1910, and in 1912, New York and Hollywood film companies started putting up offices in Manila to distribute films. The lukewarm reception led two American entrepreneurs to make a film about Jose Rizal's execution. With the curiosity of the Filipino audience piqued, Jose Nepomuceno produced the first Filipino movie, Dalagang Bukid, in 1919, which was based on a highly popular zarzuela piece by Hermogenes Ilagan and Leon Ignacio.

The U.S. colonial government then had already been using films for propaganda (in the guise of education and information dissemination) and locally-produced films---early film producers included American businessmen and local politicians---were only allowed to tackle "safe" issues of reconciliation among classes, religiosity and repentance, themes that prevailed in zarzuelas and theater. Ironically, the people who encouraged the Filipino film industry to grow were also the same people who limited its growth by setting rigid rules on expression.

The 35 mm film was a haunting reminder of our colonial past.

took that format, and the history that came along with it, and squashed the years of silence that the 35 mm format represented. Premiering in the Philippines on Independence Day makes the realization even more poignant.

I have only seen Japanese World War II propaganda films shot in 35 mm (courtesy of the Filipinas Heritage Library) but I could deduct that director Raya Martin celebrated and challenged both format and form. Independencia is stunning, a black and white magic eye that draws you with hypnotic visuals---look closely and details surface. And just as you get used to the shadowy reverie, Martin slaps you with sex and that clever bit of dialogue spoken to the audience. Apichatpongian in the dreamy texture of the jungle, and in the reveal of the darker side of nature reminescent of the tiger shaman in Tropical Malady, what Independencia lacks in momentum it makes up for with seductive mystery.

Raya Martin, whether consciously or not, has handed the 35 mm film back to the hands of early film makers Julian Manansala, Nepumoceno and everyone else who attempted to say something, say anything, but weren't given the chance to capture it on film. Pretty heroic stuff in my book.

Prisoners of Pattern: Thoreau and why that Robots in Disguise song never left my head.

A mother and son run to the woods to live deliberately, to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. The struggle for independence from the American colonial government is mere context to a romantic existential exploration of the absurdity of the concept of freedom. The family (along with the viewers) is plucked from everything familiar and is thrown into a disorienting tangle of trees, shrubs and rivers where they thrive in an illusion of freedom---the jungle itself is a prison of patterns and cycles, the world outside it more so.

Martin seems to say that freedom is not liberum arbitium where we can do as we please even if we are isolated from the rest of society and where values are insignificant to decisions made. In the jungle, there are no societal norms existing, but the values the family holds dear from folklore to, yes, their concept of freedom, is immutable, cultivated from the society of which they were a part of.

The crucial decision that the child makes at the end was dictated by the values he learned from his brief life with his parents.

Could our own values restrict our freedom? (Yes. Hello, Board of Censors.) Or does it dictate what we are free to do? Freedom and responsibility seem to be entwined; there is no freedom from being responsible for one's action. It's a cycle.

Keep moving, keep doing, keep breathing, stay living. Robots in Disguise's Cycle Song in a loop in my head while I am writing this. The mechanical absurdity of patterns, the "unfairness" of the world. Independencia is unabashedly arthouse in form but its thoughtful encounter with the absurd, whether mustached or veined leaf, is all too candidly angsty.

And just because I am free to declare this: It is fucking brilliant.

Rating: 5

Independencia (2009) Directed by Raya Martin
Produced by Arleen Cuevas

Starring Tetchie Agbayani, Sid Lucero, Assunta de Rossi, Mika Aguilos

Links consulted on history of Philippine cinema:


dodo dayao said...

I've been reading a lot of reviews about Independencia, negative ones - - -which I disagree with, of course,specially some that put it down for looking so fake - - -and most of them,if not all,seem to fixate on it receiving a grant . . .as if the film was somehow even more heinous for failing in their eyes because of it, as if it were the only indpenedent film to get a grant.
Ano kaya aabuting lait ng Kinatay?


Oh - -exquisite review,Thor.

Thor Bee said...

I didn't even consider the grant, does it carry weight on the film's outcome? Maybe a little but not significantly IMO. Unless it was a film about making a film and all that meta---I just can't wrap my head around it.

Btw, napanood ko na uncut ang Serbis and I loved it. Mas na appreciate ko sya sa small screen---ito yung paikot-ikot hanggang makahanap ng kawala. Exploration of space, etc. Pinanood namin ng iba kong UP barkada and everyone was taken aback by its beauty. Nakakabulag, nakakahilo, napaka-ingay. Ang ganda. Di ko rin ma-gets yung sobrang pag put down sa sine na to.

"Exquisite." Ganda nun ah! Thanks.

P.S. Have you read Wise Kwai's post on Pen-Ek's observation that audiences for arthouse films are slowly petering out? I think Pen-Ek was forced to re-edit Nymph to improve its pace. I've also read reviews on Independencia that critiqued the pacing, the static camera, etc. There's Hollywood for the ADD-adled viewers. Sometimes you just got to soak in all that blissful beauty, pacing be damned. :D

Andy Briones said...

I was able to catch the first screening of Independencia at Shang. The most memorable part for me is when Raya made a short speech before the screening and introduced some of the film's stars. Alessandra was there and so was the kid who played her son in the movie.

Have you seen Alessandra? She was very chic; nice dress, hehe.

dodo dayao said...

I second your thoughts on the notion that freedom doesn't really mean being free. I think yan ang kaluluwa ng pelikula. But I'm smitten more with Raya's fetish for cinematic forms. It's nothing new- - -you have Stan Brakhage on one end and Naturalborn Killers on the other - - -but that Godardian playfulness with surfaces,is the shot of endorphin in his films,even the ones I'm not a big fan of, like Indio Nacional.

Grants have funded everything from Raya's and Lav's films to Roxlee's and Khavn's and Rico Ilarde's. It has absolutely no bearing on the content whatsoever,except economical. It's just that these things - - -an award won, a grant given - - -place unnecessary burdens of proof on the film, they've become hype to disprove even when they're just the facts of the matter. As if it was their fault to be exalted in any way and for heightening the audience's expectations. The Slumdog backlash is an example - - -fewer would hate it if it were an obscure flop, I'd imagine. It's the Hootie syndrome. And a rather infantile way of approaching cinema.

I did read the Wise Kwai article. I wish Pen-Ek wouldn't recut - - -he left Ploy intact and that was sloooooow and also wondrous for it - - - but I think he's right. There's a severe lack of open-mindedness in the audience and one would think (or hope) that with the raising of cinematic literacy by torrents and bootlegs and free filmfests and whatnot,and what with everybody proclaiming himself a "film buff", that more and more would come to terms with there being more than one model of filmmaking - - -and that watching is a talent,too - - -but sadly the only barometer people uphold when watching any kind of cinema are still Cinema Paradiso and Hollywood. And next week, all this artfilm nonesense will be dumped as the nation excitably pees their pants while watching Transformers 2: Revenge of the The Fallen in IMAX,for a third time.

Shit. I need to watch Serbis soon.

Thor Bee said...

@Andy: Yeah, saw her smoking outside at the Starbucks area. Very, very elegant! Ganda niya with her LBD!

@Dodo: I love this---"and that watching is a talent,too." Well, it is, but it is also quite existential in nature, in my case at least, which either damns or exults the experience. We all have our unique sets of values, values we filter along the way, and in the context of movie buffery, as we watch more movies, more layers reveal themselves, and that there is more than one aspect to or barometer of beauty or the grotesque, what is good or bad, etc. until they become interchangeable. I see this in Serbis, Mendoza challenges our notions of beauty and freedom until what is ugly becomes radiant. There's a point here somewhere. Haha. This is also part of the pleasure of reading reviews, unique values value unique attributes. Cinematic forms, implied philosophy, nostalgic history---watching Independencia is itching for interpretation and dialogue, a rare pleasure that can mostly be found in arthouse movies where there is always room for the viewer's point of view to run wildy, or simply stand still and admire. Ramble, ramble, ramble.

So yes, watching is a talent and that barometers should change. Often. With every movie one watches.

Oh, and can't wait for Transformers 2.

Megatron: Optimus, you are my son. Stand beside me so we can rule the universe.

Optimus (in reverb): Noooooo!


dodo dayao said...

Cinema is the youngest art but here, in what used to be one of the top 5 largest movie industries in the world, it's more often than not an infant,I think. A lot of filmmakers see it fit for the sensibilities of literature and painting to overlap with cinema. But while "ugliness" and "slowness" are virtues of many paintings and novels, respectively, cinema is still prohibited from being this. Weird, that. It's a fast food culture we live in, I guess, and films are like Big Macs to many - - -upo,kain,inom,busog. . . panawid gutom - - when for the most part they should be like steaks. Something to chew on. Not that I eat steaks anymore. Hehe.

Geekery should be nothing but curiosity and evolution. And the value systems that get built up and are unique to ourselves, tne ones through which we process art - - - and in many ways,process life - - -depend on how far our curiosity takes us. The barometer should change . . .with every film (and every comic, every book,every CD, every painting). That sounds just about right.

Nice points about Serbis. Now I'm really stoked. I think I might be able to watch this soon.

Oh, at nakita ko ang trailer for Transformers 2 the other day. I think I wet myself when I saw that robot coming from under the sea. So yeah, I will be so there come June 24. God willing, with date in tow. :)

Sana maapakan lang ni Megatraon si Shia Lebouf. Nakakairita e. Hehe.

Thor Bee said...

Sabagay, mas macho pa si Megan Fox kaysa kay Shia. Hehe.

Palabas na rin My Fake English Accent sa Rob; hope it's as self-aware funny as the movie title. I'm still hoping to watch Terminator...4? (Dahil napanood ko na Terminator 1-3, commitment na lang to hahaha.) Nakakawala lang gana si Bruce Wayne.

dodo dayao said...

Medyo madaming bad reviews yung My Fake American Accent during the last Cinemalaya. It and Namerts were the most criticized.

Is Baby Angelo still showing at Indiesine? That was good. I may be a little biased, though, I know the director at rumaraket ako minsan sa prod house nila . . .hehe . . .but still, I quite liked it.

Thor Bee said...

I think Baby Angelo will be showing the entire month of June (at a particular time like 2pm everyday). Thanks for the heads up, will watch Blood The Last Vampire instead this weekend.

Pag may extra time, panoorin ko pa rin. Non-actors kasi, medyo na-intriga ako.