Nine hours and I was glued to my seat (well, except for the trips to the CR) as I watched the world premier (final cut) of Lav Diaz’s Heremias (UNANG AKLAT: ANG ALAMAT NG PRINSESANG BAYAWAK) as the closing film in the 2006 Cinemanila International Film Festival in Greenbelt 1. Whew! That was the longest movie I’ve watched (I’ve watched a movie marathon for 12 hours way back in college in SM Megamall but these were a series of Italian, Cambodian and Japanese films) but this still is an hour short of his other work, Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (2004) which clocks in at 10 hours but 4 hours more than his other critically acclaimed Batang West Side (2002). I really don’t know what to expect from a Lav Diaz as I wasn’t really able to catch the other two (I’m not also sure if Ebolusyon was screened here). Ronnie Lazaro, the lead actor was also present as well as Tikoy Aguiluz, the festival director introduced the film. Too bad, Lav was present but was at the projection room and didn’t see him.
Its a story of Heremias, a handicrafts salesman that brings his products on a cart pulled by a cow, a rather familiar sight in some parts of Metro Manila and Central Luzon trudging slowly along its way. The circumstances of his life is not really outlined and you would not now what really is his big problem as he’s oftentimes deep in thought, silent, not joining his other handicrafts salesmen or not eating with them but you would learn that it might be a very deep problem as he doesn’t want to go back to his barrio. Alas, he decides to separate and get luck on his own to the consternation of his friends. This decision sends him to the separate road, a path his group haven’t been to before, a barrio called Hapon that has a storied past going back to WWII. There he finds shelter in an abandoned house one stormy night. A mystery man appears, three men come for shelter, they have a drink, he sleeps and come the next day, his cow was stolen along with his goods and his cart burned. This incident and his helplessness dealing with the village chief and the town’s policeman spurs him to try to catch the perpetrator by hiding in the forest just a stone’s throw from the abandoned house. One night, a group of drug addicts hatch a plot to commit a crime. He tells the policeman and a priest who were both resentful and also afraid considering that they will then be dealing with the son of the town’s congressman. As he finds himself in the forest once again, this time bruised and in pain due to the policeman’s brutality, he calls out to sacrifice himself, to walk for 40 days without food for God, as he says it, if he exists, spare the soon to be victim’s life and get his instead.
The movie, done in black and white, is painfuly slow such that sometimes its a struggle to keep awake. Even Alexis Tioseco, noted film critic (featured in Preview, a local glossy magazine, as one of 21 promising young people to watch out for), who was seated infront of me, dozed off (but probably he must have seen portions of this one already; he also has interviewed the director in his website at criticine). Most of the times, a scene is static. Just like a stage, the actors come and go, doing their stuff; or the caravan of handicrafts slowly winding its way along the road from one end of the frame until the other end, left to right, right to left. The road scenes keep on playing out, always a trudge, always from one visible end to the other end. But then, the cinematography is just beautiful. These static sceneries are a delight to look at, like watching a black and white photo exhibit in a gallery. The viewer’s eyes are forced to move around the frame, study the different elements that make up the scene, they way the blades of cogon move when blown by the wind or admire the parched and bald landscape that is typically Philippine countryside. Composition is topnotch. I do have some complains though: is it my eyes or the way it was projected as its somewhat blurry; some scenes’ highlights are sometimes overblown (overexposed) and tends to distract; in the early part of the movie, there’s a seeming problem as the scenes tend to focus/defocus every once in a while.
As for the story, well, its good and I don’t have any complaints. Just when you expect that this particular thing will happen and a twist springs. Except that very lengthy (more than 45 minutes?) of cussing, crap, crap, cussing, cussing scenes in that drug addicts part which was just numbing. Ronnie Lazaro is very much talented. And same with Sid Lucero as the policeman. I have high respects for these two.
Unless one has the patience to sit it out to the end, one is rewarded with great cinematography (Tamara Benitez (so young and so talented) is the director of photography –> and I just have to search her out online as I was rather impressed. Here is her Flickr site). great acting from real actors and great direction and story from a very talented director. I just hope that I would be able to watch his other works especially the two mentioned above plus his other films.