Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) (2005)



Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) (Raya Martin, 2005)
English Title: A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipinos)

Southeast Asian is an oft neglected region in cinema. Outside the confines of your typical J-horror rip-offs or the usual stunt extravaganzas, Southeast Asia probably has the most progressive and most interesting films that are produced. Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul uses cinema to mystify social and cultural issues and institutions without alienating audiences. Pen-ek Ratanaruang borrows Western conventions to mirror Thailand in its present state of disconnect. The most maverick of all Southeast Asian filmmakers is Lav Diaz, an auteur who foregos conventions of commercially imposed running times in favor of real time immersion leading to a fully comprehensible reckoning of his themes. Probably the most promising of these young filmmakers is Raya Martin, who at 22, has already made one masterpiece, Maicling pelicula nañg ysañg indio nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan).

Raya Martin's film can be divided into two parts. The first part, or the prologue, is in color and is accompanied by the ambient sound of crickets and dogs barking. The prologue focuses on a woman who is having a hard time sleeping. The woman's inability to sleep is difficult to watch. Her sleeping troubles connote an impossible burden that her conscience is battling with, causing her to conclude that resting is a luxury, or even a sin. She wakes her husband and begs for a story. The husband tells his wife a story about a young boy who meets an old man who is carrying a coffin. The old man asks the boy if he can help him bury the coffin, which supposedly contains the remains of all the fake leaders who poisoned the land. The boy scoffs which makes the old man reveal himself as the Philippines. The monologue of the husband is prolonged and very emotional. The storytelling session is as painful to watch and listen to as the wife squirming in her mat, troubled and unable to sleep. The lamp dies and the second part of the film begins.

The second part is a series of silent film vignettes, accompanied by a live piano recital of works by Schumann, Chopin, Ligeti, Beethoven and Mozart. The vignettes hint of a plot regarding a church bel lringer who is joked by his peers as to which side is he on. The vignettes also follow the story of a teenager who signs up to become a member of the Philippine Revolution. He becomes disappointed upon dreaming of a sunrise for his beloved nation which urges him to go into battle not knowing that such attack was in fact, postponed. The second part ends with the story of a young barrio actor who spends most of his time rehearsing for a Spanish play while the barrio is in the midst of war. Interspersed within these negligible stories are scenes of the everyday actualities of rural life during the time of the Philippine Revolution. Interestingly, these scenes are mostly about religion, revolution, and death. The film ends in a sudden, and suggestively pessimistic note.

The film is an imperfect yet tremendous piece of work by a promising artist. While the second part hints of whimsical, almost humorous tales and adventures of the young pre-revolution Filipino, it is also suggestive of the Filipinos' lack of identity, of its fickle-mindedness, which brings about a fate of prolonged sorrow. The film is elliptical. It begins with prolonged woe, with the wife's troubles and the husband's suggested sorrowful past, continues with a recounting of history, and ends with a conclusion of a nation's destiny of sadness. Martin is of an age group of Filipinos who have been deprived of history. History is merely learned through schooling, through books whose own sources are questionable results of centuries of colonial rule. Simply put, Martin is of an age where the history learned is the history of the privileged. The heroes of the Philippine Revolution are the illustrados, the wealthy, the learned and the titled. The indios (commoners) are merely pawns, foot soldiers of a revolution that led to the nation's supposed freedom from the clutches of colonialism. But has the nation outgrown its colonial masters when its own history is clouded by foreign historians who have neglected the stories of the common folk? Martin, through the film, has visualized his belief that ours is a nation that is bereft of a national identity. He fashions a film that could have been made by any native Filipino, if handed a video camera while in the midst of the Philippine Revolution. He will not capture the drafting of treaties or the promulgation of constitutions or other grandiose moments in written history. Instead, he will capture are the ordinary, the droll and mundane, non-effects of the War. There will be an abundance of religious articles, simply because that is what he was force-fed with. There will be numerous deaths, because that is the logical repercussion of poverty and slavery. There will be humorous sketches that display the Filipinos' ignorance and deprivation of knowledge.

That is the magic of Martin's work. It is a recreation of a past that was never recorded. In a depressing note though, the deprivation of such and the reliance on written history based on the actions of the privileged is what made this nation what it is now: sorrowful, impoverished and in the verge of being hopeless, hence, the title: the prolonged sorrow of the Filipinos

7 comments:

A said...

Upon surfing the net to find some reviews on "A Short film about the Indio National", yours was the only one linked to imdb.
I only read an interesting festival report from Rotterdam on two films from the Phillipines (the other was Diaz' latest "work in progress").
I was wondering if you know something about the film's availability, maybe on DVD? I'd like to see more movies from the Philippines, but they seem awfully difficult to come by (even the Classics like BRocka, Leon, etc.)
I saw Lav Diaz' "Evolution of the Filipino Family" at a screening in Germany last year, and it was a great experience. It's too bad to see such talent being so marginalized.
You have a nice blog by the way :-)

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks...

Raya Martin's film isn't available on DVD yet. It's probably going to have a difficult time finding its way to the DVD market, since it's essentially a silent film --- had a recent chat with Martin and if ever his film would appear on DVD, he'd like to have interchangeable soundtracks for the silent portion of the film. The director's a very nice guy.

Thanks for your comments and reading my meager blog. Hope you don't mind if I link your blog to mine

Anonymous said...

Hello. Been reading some of your reviews when I came upon this piece by Raya Martin. I've read about him in the past, but I never really looked past the name. I know it has been months since you wrote the post but I thank you for being able to give us a glimpse of the works of the little known but brilliant local films in the present. Here's to hoping that Martin's (as well as other indie features and shorts) will be made available for viewing once again.

gfutfy said...
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Ian said...

I recently watched this and have been looking through blogs for insight. Your thoughts have been the most insightful, so I thought I would query here --

As an American with almost no knowledge of Filipino history, I found the film impossible to penetrate. It feels so densely allegorical. I have been hoping to fix this and to learn more about Filipino history and to have the tools to engage with the film. Everything I've read of Raya Martin has led me to his work (this is the first of his films I have seen) and I would really like engage with it on his level. Can you point me to any helpful/pertinent historical sources? Or to any academic sources? (Or would you be willing to go into more depth into it (although I imagine it has been too long since you've seen it)?)

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Ian,

Thanks for the message. The interesting thing about Maicling Pelicula, in my opinion, is that while it is specific with the Filipino experience, it is still pertinent with all nations with colonial pasts. The Philippines was a colony of Spain for 3 centuries, leading to a revolution spearheaded by the Filipino elite (although the founder of the revolution, Andres Bonifacio (whose execution by fellow revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo is the subject of Martin's Autohystoria) is a commoner). As with all cultures, history is written from the point of view of the powerful. There are barely any records as to how the peasant folk lived or participated during the revolution. The beauty of Martin's film is that it envisions history through that marginalized point of view.

Ian said...

Thank you for the response. I think that is very well expressed -- and indeed it does help to think about the film as a history for those without it. Rereading this part in particular: "He fashions a film that could have been made by any native Filipino, if handed a video camera while in the midst of the Philippine Revolution. He will not capture the drafting of treaties or the promulgation of constitutions or other grandiose moments in written history. Instead, he will capture are the ordinary, the droll and mundane, non-effects of the War. There will be an abundance of religious articles, simply because that is what he was force-fed with. There will be numerous deaths, because that is the logical repercussion of poverty and slavery. There will be humorous sketches that display the Filipinos' ignorance and deprivation of knowledge."

I still, however, feel uncertain. Why did he pick the sketches he did? Is there nothing symbolic to them beyond re-creation? Why the sun between the legs, for instance? I feel like maybe I am thinking about this in the wrong way, and the more it as replaced history, the more it grows on me.

Thanks for the help! I hope to see more of Raya Martin's films in the future.