Andrea Picard

A work of profound emotional depth and stunning deep-focus chiaroscuro cinematography, it lingers in the imagination for an unusually long time; so complete and devastating is its wounded, weary, and wretched world. Its tale of a young, beautiful woman who lost her mother at an early age (“in unexplained circumstances”), is shackled to a rickety bed by her perpetually drunk, exploitative father, and is continuously raped by men as her battered grandfather is forced to witness her suffering, can hardly get more bleak. And yet, its sustained descent into a Tarr-like miserabilism is revealed as complex, multi-faceted, and paradoxical at every sodden turn, intersecting with a few other storylines and a tireless, unseen gecko providing some impressive diegetic sound from the natural world. The film takes place in Bicol near the alluring but ominous volcano, which erupted as recently as 2008, decimating the region, its molten lava swallowing upwards of 3,000 lives. Still, people returned to live there, despite the fatal risk, as if a supernatural magnetism drew them back. But, as the film amply and relentlessly (at times, punishingly) demonstrates, home is not synonymous with safety and comfort; in Bicol, for Florentina Hubaldo, it’s a literal hell on earth.

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