There is a lot one could say about Lav Diaz’s exhausting, exhilarating 7 1/2 hour MELANCHOLIA. JustAnotherFilmBuff writes that this is a movie that “wallows in sadness” and I wouldn’t think of disagreeing with that statement. I don’t know of too many other films which have so thoughtfully meditated upon the pain and suffering often associated with act of remembrance. Divided more or less into three parts, MELANCHOLIA first follows three different people in a town called Sagade, each of whom assumes false identities in order to cope with the loss/disappearance of kin during revolutionary upheavals and to, as Christopher Huber writes, “deal with the pain of existence and the throwbacks in the fight for freedom equality.” The second and third sections of the film then place these moments in the context of periods occurring both before and after the events in Sagada. What we are then given is a full-on political and philosophical investigation into the particulars of the these characters’ relations to both their own individual pasts and, more broadly, the past of their culture, the result of which reveals what I believe Diaz sees as the disillusionment and purgatorial state of an entire country of people. Late in the film a character has this to say: “I now realized the lyrical madness to this struggle. It is all about sadness. It is about my sadness. It is about the sorrow of my people. I cannot romanticize the futility of it all. Even the majestic beauty of this island could not provide an answer to this hell. There is no cure to this sadness.” The tone of this passage is not far from the philosophical viewpoint of the entire film. That is not to say that MELANCHOLIA is defeatist; I agree with Huber that it is certainly in one sense a “cri de couer for continuing revolution.” Rather, it paints the existence as I believe Lav Diaz sees it in his country, as one of pain, melancholy, and destitution. Though I know this sounds reductive, I must say that if there is a message in this film, I believe it’s that Filipinos must understand the precise details of these essential truths/conditions in order to morally and healthily come to terms with that existence.
Aesthetically, I find that Diaz, at least in this film, has a very precise economy of compositional techniques which he uses throughout the film. This director is as in love with the use of diagonal lining in his geometrical spaces as Ozu is. This helps Diaz cinematically map out the trajectory of his characters’ movements as well. He composes very often in deep space but in a way that is fairly unique to his aesthetic; his shots are never overtly self-conscious in their compositional qualities like in Tsai’s movies and he uses the length of their duration to slowly and unpretentiously reveal to the viewer the purpose of their initial set-ups. That is to say, most of his shots are miniature movies in and of themselves, each carrying their own independent purposes while also remaining interconnected with the overall fabric of the film. There are also some startling stylistic surprises in store for the first time viewer with regards to POV perspective and sound design that I don’t want to give away as it will undoubtedly take away from the excitement of discovering them firsthand.
I beg those of you who have not seen it to get at it as soon as possible. It’s lengthy but not at all grueling. Trust me; you’re going to be fully engrossed.