Friday, June 12, 2009

Independencia (2009)

Independencia (Raya Martin, 2009)

On June 12, 1898, a group of self-proclaimed generals and their supporters declared independence for an archipelago who has been under Spanish rule for more than three centuries. Since then, the archipelago has been the colony of the Americans for more than four decades and the Japanese for around three years before being granted by the Americans who rescued the islands from the clutches of the Japanese with independence on July 4, 1946. In an effort to acknowledge the sacrifices of the revolutionaries who strove for freedom from the Spanish, the Philippine government transferred Independence day from July 4 back to June 12, notwithstanding the fact that the waving of the Philippine flag by the momentarily victorious generals was more symbolic than real, given the fact that at that moment, the Americans have bought the islands, along with Puerto Rico, from the Spanish as if it were real estate. Thus, it is not very surprising that the concept of independence has been nothing but an elusive euphamism for most Filipinos. It is easily mistaken for patriotism, love for country, or worse, radicalism. With more than a century since the Filipinos declared for themselves independence, can this nation truly consider itself independent?

Last June 12, 2009, Raya Martin came home from Cannes to screen his aptly titled film Independencia to his countrymen. Martin, who alongside several internationally acclaimed Filipino filmmakers like Lav Diaz (Melancholia (2008) and Kagadanan sa Banwaan Ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos (2007)) and Brillante Mendoza (Kinatay (Slaughtered, 2009) and Serbis (Service, 2008)) have been accused of making films for foreign audiences instead of his fellow Filipinos, is unrelenting in his art but nevertheless values truth above visual and narrative pleasures. Martin creates films about concepts that matter to him. He seeks to recreate a historic past that he, and most other Filipinos have been deprived of (Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, 2005), where short film vignettes of ordinary Filipinos during times of peace and war; and Autohystoria (2007), where the murder of revolutionary Andres Bonifacio and his brother is reenacted as a contemporary tale of political salvage), or his own personal memories (Now Showing (2008), a film that is divided into two parts: the first part about a girl's whimsical childhood and the second part about the girl living out her life borne out of his joyous past as punctuated by a traumatic event that separates the two parts), or filmmaking (Next Attraction (2008), also a film that is divided into two parts: the first part is about a film crew making an independent production and the second part shows the film they made).

Independencia is largely composed of nuances and minute details. The story is simple. A mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and his son (Sid Lucero) retreat into the middle of the jungle as American troops start invading the towns. Mother and son lead an austere yet satisfying life away from civilization until the son finds a woman (Alessandra de Rossi), injured and presumably raped by the Americans. The mother dies of illness. The man and the woman, along with her son (Mika Aguilos) start living together peacefully in the middle of the jungle. There are no heroes, no resounding acts of patriotism, and no rousing marches or melodies. Perhaps the most conspicuous element of Independencia is the aesthetics that it borrows from early American talkies. Shot entirely inside a sound studio that is refashioned into a jungle with painted backgrounds, plants, birds, and other creatures and sound effects that realistically capture the atmosphere, the film is oftentimes breathtaking to look at, with cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie making use of artificial lighting to create haunting images that complement Lutgardo Labad's momentous score.

There's a reason behind Martin's use of borrowed aesthetics. As with Maicling Pelicula where Martin makes use of silent film aesthetics as reaction to a recorded history that is predominantly centered on the privileged instead of the masses, Independencia's aesthetics marks as both an indignation of the cinematic culture that the Philippines has been deprived of (either by ignorance or deplorable film archiving, given the fact that most pre-war Filipino films have been lost to decay) and a commentary on the hypnotizing and bamboozling effect of what seems to be America's most enduring gift to the Filipinos: the love for cinema. In the middle of Independencia, the film gives way to a fake news reel about a kid who was shot dead by an American soldier for pilfering crops from a vendor. Accompanied with humorous sarcasm and satire, the reel is nonetheless telling of the mis-education that the Americans have inflicted on the Filipinos, to the point that the latter is willing to digest the blatantly illogical and immoral to please their colonial masters.

Independencia tackles the concept of independence in its most unadulterated form, where both mother and son sacrifice the comforts of colonial living, of so-called civilization to live in the jungle. By stripping themselves of their colonial past, they become subjects of nature and the elements. Beliefs transform as pre-colonial lore, with passed-on tales of powerful talismans and golden skinned deities, become redundant conversational devotions. Their sexual impulses, left unhindered by concepts of religion and morality, occupy both their idle time and dreams. The familial unit remains. More than the familial unit are traces of their former lives made apparent in their subconscious thoughts: the mother dreams of an intense sexual encounter while the son dreams of fighting a war. Independence remains an elusive concept, even to a family who was forced to give up the comforts of colonial living and learned to love the mystic allure of the jungle. Tainted, perhaps forever, with foreign influence, death seems the inevitable freedom.

The pale-skinned boy, presumably the son of the woman with her American aggressors, is the lone character that is truly independent. Born in the jungle with only tales from his known father and mother as guidance to the world, the boy's curiosity expands as he grows older. The Americans are slowly making their way into the jungle. As the jungle becomes less of a haven for the family, their choices get slimmer. For the couple, the rationale of keeping themselves freed from colonial rule is blurred by the demands of the tough times as food is becoming more scarce and a devastating storm is brewing. For the boy, the allure of what's out there seems natural and understandable, considering that the color of his skin hardly matches the skin of both his mother and father. However, the boy chooses independence and sacrifices his life for it. Martin marks the boy's sacrifice with striking colors, meshing style and substance together in a sublime sequence of tremendous beauty and emotion.

According to this reviewer who had the pleasure of seeing Independencia in Cannes, Martin introduced the film to his audience with a wish that people would be able "to die for their country, and for cinema." Morbid as it sounds, Martin's wish proves to be a logical solution to a world where people have forgotten to be independent and cinema has forgotten its role as recorder of culture and history. If death is the only measure to gain this independence, then let us be brave enough to slit our own throats or force ourselves in exile, symbolically. Lest we actually know the pains and pleasures of living outside the mainstream, of living without the influences that mutate the virtues that bind us as human beings, then we cannot honestly consider ourselves truly independent.


ADRIAN said...

Gosh! Richard (lilokpelikula) got thorny comments from some readers on his review on Martin's Independencia...

I hope he's doing okay...

The thing is their discussions are purely personal (i.e. Chard's bias on Martin, or Dante Mendoza) and are not grounded on theoretical and factual arguments...


Oggs Cruz said...

I know. Even I got a mention in the discussions in Chard's blog. I really don't get the "if you love Raya, you hate Brillante" line of thinking. I don't understand this silent battle (whether it was started by the filmmakers or those close to them) between the two schools of filmmaking. It's a little bit ridiculous. Even those who would want to write about these films are cornered into compromising full appreciation of their films simply because of the irresponsible labeling. Ho hum.

Anonymous said...

Whether you admit it or not, you are critical of Mendoza and soft with Raya, Oggs. Just look at your reviews of both filmmakers' films. May pa-ho-hum-ho-hum ka pa e guilty ka naman. Your reviews speak clearly of your color. Im sure, kayong mga detractors ni Mendoza naghihintay lang ng isang maling galaw niya at mag-uunahan kayong batikusin siya. Now, that's ho-hum.

Korek di ba?

- Pren ni Myself at pan ni Mendoza at di pan ni Raya (at least, malinaw ang kulay ko, di tulad nyo, pwe!)

Oggs Cruz said...

Welcome back, anonymous!

Anonymous said...

mga rebyu pala ng independencia. note na di ko sila pren o di sila pan ni raya o mendoza. mga tao lang sila na dapat nyo - kayong mga pan ni raya - pakinggan:

nabasa ko lang yan. i swear to god, di ko kilala yan, tamaan man ako ng kidlat.

- ako pa rin, pren ni myself

chard bolisay said...

Adrian, I think writing with too much ground on your said "theoretical and factual arguments" is too dismissive. I don't think much would be said if we discuss how Mendoza's films fare with or fare against the realism of Brocka, or for that matter, neo-realism, though it would quite be something for scholars like you - - but that's just not me.

My tuppence worth: more often than not, the issue is not really about raya's films being good or bad, but people like us who stand up to like them that annoy most viewers who seem to be quite insecure about their views and would rather pull someone down and find another (the easier target would be mendoza) to have them fight and qualify their below-the-belt opinions. it's a pity that we always have to explain ourselves even if we don't need to.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks anonymous for those reviews,

I, of course, disagree with their views but I nonetheless respect them. At least their dislike for Independencia has nothing to do with the fact that they are fans of other filmmakers.

Finally, just to say something about the topic of being overly critical with Brillante. I loved Manoro. I think Tirador was brilliant. Although flawed, Serbis is an exciting and intriguing piece of art. Foster Child is good. Masahista is a solid first film. The only film of Brillante which I disliked is Kaleldo, but I am open to watching it again.

The issue is very simple. Brillante and Raya are two filmmakers whose styles, theories, philosophies, and subjects are as vast as the sea. What is the point of pitting the two? To represent a fleeting concept called "independent Philippine cinema?"

Anonymous said...

No, the only Mendoza film you liked, to my recollection, is Manoro and for the others you have been critical. I've been following you from the start so nothing has escaped from me. Manoro isn't even Mendoza's best film for me pre-Kinatay, it's Serbis. But that's not my contention with you. It's your being partial to Raya and Lav and dismissive of other filmmakers, Mendoza included. I can't see the reason why you turned a blind eye to the shortcomings of Raya's Independencia, they are so big like... may be as big as you... for you to miss.

And, it's not pitting the two filmmakers. It's you Raya fans downgrading Mendoza. Please tell your cohorts to go fuck shut their mouths on Mendoza. If you want to praise Raya, go praise him all you want, but spare Mendoza. Because the truth is, Mendoza is definitely better filmmaker than Raya!

ive said my piece so this is my last post on this thread.

Oggs Cruz said...

Farewell anonymous. I suggest you read my thoughts again though.

Hi Chard, kamusta Raya-fan, hehe.

Anonymous said...

the two reviewers (the links provided above) just ruined their credibility if they really wanted someone to listen to their criticisms rather rants.

i'd rather listen to richard (even though i think he would be better as a literary writer) and francis in reviewing films.

critics are not haters. they are just honest and it happens they liked independencia and you would not understand why. because their knowledge on films would support their reviews.

- film lover

ADRIAN said...

Hmmm... Okay, chard. But i was referring to that avid-fan of yours, 'myself', that he would mention more about the MISE EN SCENE of Independencia, which he heavily criticize, and ground his arguments with reliable and essential facts.

Note para kay 'myself':


An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of "argument" has the following form:

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B makes an attack on person A.
3. Therefore A's claim is false.

The reason why an Ad Hominem (of any kind) is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

Anonymous said...

Richard's best film for 2008: Raya's Now Showing.

Richard's slogan: Raya always tops his previous film.

Your true color is in the content of this blog:

My defense: No other Filipino Director Ever, not YOUR Raya, not YOUR Lav, had been as awarded internationally as Brillante Mendoza. If you can dispute that fact, I'll be willing to give you a lecture on cinema. Thank you.

Otherwise, feel free to read my blog for my thorough albeit lengthy discussions on cinema, not your type of kissing-asses (Raya's and Lav's) entries on your blog.

Farewell Adrian. Epal at feeling mo, sobra.

Saka ka na magreply pag naka Palme d'or o best Director na si Raya sa Cannes. Grabe na to. hahaha.

ADRIAN (pren ni Myself)

Oggs Cruz said...

Please post your blog address so we may be enlightened on your lengthy discussions on cinema, anonymous.

dodo dayao said...

Hi Oggs. Here we go again? No name at last post daw? Nanura pa? Wasak. Hehe.

I'm writing my own piece on Independencia - - as usual,ako pinakamabagal at pinakahuli,hehe - - so I've only casually skimmed your review (and Chard's and Thor's and northernportrait of PDVD also has an interesting piece)to avoid osmosis but nice one, nonetheless. Will read it (and the rest) more thoroughly once I've finished writing.

This whole Brillante Vs. Raya rivalry has been brewing up since Serbis/Now Showing, hasn't it? Wghose stunt is it, I wonder? It's faintly ridiculous but faintly funnish,too, on a lowbrow showbiz level, but in the long run could be unfair to both Dante and Raya ,makes the discourse crass. . . but hey, wouldn't it make for good beer talk thinking of other possible filmmaker rivalries: Lav vs. Jeffrey, Topel Vs. Somes,Joyce Bernal vs. Wenn Deramas,etc.etc. Hehe.

david b said...

this whole raya vs dante thing ridiculously hinges on the concept of international awards.

but what if we take out the awards from the discussion? what do we have?

opinions about FILMS.

Anonymous doesn't seem to have opinions about the films. he/she is just talking about the filmmaker.

which makes him...jologs.

and that's my opinion of Anonymous, the person. i wish i had opinions of his opinions instead. pero wala eh...

pabasa mo critique mo, Anonymous, nang mas kapani-paniwala ka.

ADRIAN said...

Auteur BOXING na ata ito.

Sorry po pala sir oggs kung nag-lagay pa ako ng note on FALLACY, haha! Sabi nga ni anonymous, sobra na! Tama naman sya.

I hope mabasa ko na ang mga articles ni anonymous. I am desperately seeking for a good and lengthy analysis of Dante mendoza's KINATAY.


Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Dodo, as always, I can't wait to read your thoughts on this. I agree with your statement in PDVD, I love the little quirks that Raya infuses in his films... it breaks the seriousness. Quite lovely.

Adrian, no need to apologize. Sana nga mabasa natin ang views ni frend ni myself.

I agree david, this pitting two directors based on international awards verges on the ridiculous. Awards give pride to the nation, but cannot and should not, dissuade us to view a film on its own merits.

Anonymous said...

Dear Francis, do you have an email I can contact you by? Thanks, Edwin

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Edwin, my email address is

Anonymous said...

wow! me raya vs mendoza angle pala? wat a pointless waste of time


H. M. Agustin said...

Whatda! May ganitong issue pala? Wasak to boy! Haha.

I'm relatively new to the Latest of the Filipino cinema since my interest only started a year ago, thanks to the film critic's circle (This includes you, oggs), I've watched a few good films from the start of the digital revolution.

I've been an avid fan of Khavn since 2007, Raya Martin and Dante Mendoza is somehow new to me.

But I think, this rivalry is pointless since they are two film-makers of two distinct styles. It's like comparing Spielberg to Lynch. Which is, in all angles, walang pagkakapareho sa (directing) style kaya walang magiging basis kapag nag-critic tayo.

Though, the only flaw I see with Martin is that, his films choose an audience. Most of Martin's films are experimental and needs an advanced knowledge on the technical side of film making to be able for you to appreciate it. Especially Autohystoria.

But with Mendoza, it is somehow easy to relate and appreciate, but most of it are hard to watch, especially Serbis. And also, Mendoza tackles topics that our society hides and bury to be forgotten, (drugs, prostitution, etc.) he might even be called as a false social realist for his films shows our society's problems but never offer any solution.

Since my mentality still revolves around the "Masa", I really do hope that someday, our acclaimed film-makers today (includes Mendoza, Martin, Diaz, etc.) could make a more masa film but not to the extent of what GMA and Star Cinema have done.

Mendoza and Martin are good at their own rights, and also have some flaws. One thing I could say is that, I thank those two, and other film-makers, who made Philippine cinema alive again.