Srikanth Srinivasan

Death in the Land of Encantos (2007) was made immediately after the typhoon Reming/Durian devastated the town of Bicol (where the director had shot his previous two films), killing and displacing many families. The nine-hour film consists of two disparate threads the first of which plays out as a straightforward documentary where a filmmaker interviews the people affected by the disaster and gathers their opinion about the causes and consequences of the typhoon. The second thread in the film follows a fictional triad of artists who too live in the region of Bicol. Benjamin Agusan (Roeder Camanag) is a poet who has just returned from Russia and has discovered that his ex-lover has been buried under the outpouring of the volcano Mt. Mayon that was triggered by Reming. Then there are his friends Teodero (Perry Dizon), the level headed ex-poet who is now a fisherman, and Catalina (Angeli Bayani), a painter-sculptor who uses the debris spewed out by the volcano for her art. Benjamin is mentally disintegrating and has visions of his childhood and of his stay in Russia now and then. He is also hunted down by the government, which seems to have an agenda of killing all the soldiers and artists involved in the resistance, for his contribution to the anarchist movement. Diaz uses abstract time when dealing with sequences involving Benjamin wherein his immediate past, distant past and present (and possibly nightmares) reside in the same physical space, at times, like in The Mirror (1974) and The Corridor (1994).

Like in many contemporary works from around the world, fact and fiction reside alongside in Diaz’s film, even interpenetrating each other at times. Although this does reinforce the reality that the film is based on, Diaz views the marriage as a purely ethical decision intended to avoid exploitation of his people’s miseries (He had shot the documentary part before even deciding to make the film). As a result Encantos is like a Herzog film that encompasses its making-of. A peculiar thing that one notices about the film is that it is so full of artists – painters, sculptors, poets, filmmakers and writers all over. On that basis alone, one could say that Death in the Land of Encantos is Diaz’s most personal film. The film is built largely around long conversations that invariably end up discussing the role of artists in a revolution. Through the contrast between the two sections of the film, Diaz may just be exploring the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between artists and common folk that, as Evolution had elucidated, exploitative, commercial media have occupied. However, he is also very hopeful about the work of artists. Mt. Mayon is apparently symbolic of everything Filipino – both its beauty and its ugliness. Catalina making beauty out of its ugliness is what Diaz, as a filmmaker, seems to be attempting too – to embrace the state of Philippines in its entirety and use his art to correct its blemishes and restore its glory.

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