Friday, November 10, 2006
Heremias (Lav Diaz, 2006)
Heremias (Lav Diaz, 2006) article available only until Thursday next week
Lav Diaz's "Heremias" (2006) is 540 minutes long, an hour shy of the length of "Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino" ("Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), presently the record holder of the title "longest single Filipino feature"--but then this picture is only part one, titled, or so I'm told, "Book 1: The Legend of the Lizard Princess." "Ebolusyon" spanned a broad canvas, featuring not just the story of two families (rice farmers in Tarlac, wood gatherers aspiring to become gold miners in the Benguet Province), but the recent history of the Philippines, as represented in a series of documentary footage, from Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972 to the EDSA Revolt in 1986 to the massacre of the farmers on Mendiola Bridge in 1987; along the way Diaz stuffed the film full of all kinds of conceits, from film critic Gino Dormiendo playing Lino Brocka in a series of televised interviews to a plot to assassinate Brocka (?!) to a series of hilariously melodramatic radio broadcasts that the families listen to religiously, as if they were Sunday Mass. "Heremias" is radically different--it's the odyssey of one man (Ronnie Lazaro) from his village to the city and back; more, it's his journey from a state of absolute innocence to knowledge, disillusionment, guilt.
Diaz had told me once that he was interested in making a film about these people--traveling peasants who pile their covered wagons high with bits of handicrafts (rocking chairs, brooms, baby walkers, and so forth), make their painfully slow way into town, and sell their wares for remarkably low prices (you wonder: if their products are so cheap, how much did these people spend acquiring--or making--them?); here is the film he talked about, in all its implacable glory. For a time we see nothing but Heremias and his wagon, pulled by a carabao (we get to know that carabao quite well), rolling from one end of the screen to another; the road--dirt as often as asphalt, stretching past houses and hills and trees--often forms a diagonal on which the small figure and his wheeled vehicle ambles (slowly, slowly) along. At one point a typhoon rages while the wagon goes down a forest path--diagonally situated, as usual, this time from right to lower left--and we wait for the wagon to reach the path's nearer end before Diaz cuts, as he's done so often before. Suddenly a sapling falls across the way; the path is blocked; the slow and steady motion we have come to expect from so many hours' variation on this particular composition cannot be completed--cannot be fulfilled, if you will. We watch in mounting frustration as Heremias gets off the wagon, chops the sapling up, pushes it out of the way; eventually, he manages to clear the path and move the wagon forward, reaching the lower left corner of the screen; you're almost thrilled at the accomplishment.