Mostly set in year 2011, the prophetic film starts with art works (and films) being censored and burned by the Department of Culture and the Armed Forces. Paintings and books are used as fodder for a hungry bonfire on the street.
Cut to the real world, and you’ll notice the resemblance to attempts to burn down and close down a divisive art work exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Most objectors decried the defilement of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ.
Cue back to the film, made in 2001, and you’ll realize that the name of the major character is Hesus. The uncanny similarities are quite unnerving and troubling. Censorship and blocking of Cinemalaya films is now a possibility after the precedent shown by the CCP board with Mideo Cruz’s art work. Artists rose in arms to protest the closure of the exhibit.
Hesus, Rebolusyunaryo also deals with a firebrand artist. Hesus Mariano (Mark Anthony Fernandez) loves music and poetry. His book Landas ni Ybarra has been compared with the incendiary Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal. He worked before as a journalist but the rise to power of General Cyrus Racellos likely pushed him to join the underground movement.
Hesus is on top of the list of the most wanted men by the military. He became a legend for carrying out high-profile liquidation missions for the rebel group called the People’s Liberation Front. His expertise in handling guns made him a perfect choice for assassinations and, once in a while, purging of moles in the movement.
A recent purging of comrades in his cell led to his being critically wounded. He gets captured by the military. Colonel Simon (Joel Lamangan) takes a huge interest in the welfare of the unconscious prisoner. Knowing the youngster’s passion for music and poetry, Simon plays loudly some ethnic music, classical music, and a punk-rock ditty in his room. But, none was effective in reviving him save for the poem-letter written by Hesus himself.
This poem, which gets a second reading at the end of the film, seems to symbolize art works that spur people to feel truly alive. Detailed description of Hesus’ rustic life shows the stark contrast to his life on the run in the urban jungles. These memories of joyful days in Bicol and his pretty lady love Hilda (an allusion to Ligaya Paraiso?) are enough to resurrect him.
Most of Lav Diaz’s films deal with the power of art to redeem humanity and the role of artists as social movers. This film is probably one of the most personal of his works. His ideology and commentaries on art and the state of the nation are clearly brought out in the open. A clue to the autobiographical slant of the film is a scene that mirrors the house on fire scene in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. The next scene shows a mirror breaking up into pieces. The Russian film is, just like Diaz’s film, chockfull of autobiographical tidbits about its maker.
Hesus, Rebolusyunaryo shows Diaz’s nationalism, keen observation, and deep passion for art, music, films, and poetry. I’ve been an avid fan of Lav Diaz’s features/reviews for Jingle magazine in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was responsible for luring me to the world of nationalistic troubadours such as Joey Ayala, Patatag, and Inang Laya. When the magazine disbanded, I’d lost track of Diaz. It was when he came up with his enigmatic films that I began to devour readings about his life and works. From an excellent lengthy interview by the late Alexis Tioseco, I’d learnt that he was a former journalist and that as a kid he saw people at checkpoints singing the Lupang Hinirang; both elements crop up in the film.
I agree with Lav Diaz’s stand against censorship. He says ‘censorship is poison to the arts (and culture).’ Mideo Cruz’s art work Poleteismo should not have been censored and closed down. The best revenge for those who got offended with it should have been to just ignore the installation. I’d seen the installation during my Cinemalaya 2011 film sojourn and would have completely forgotten about it had it not been for the controversy. As it is, the objectors put back the limelight on a not-so-great art work.
Year 2011 will be remembered not for Poleteismo but for Lav Diaz’s new, soon-to-be premiering films, Babae ng Hangin, and Siglo ng Pagluluwal. And, you don’t have to be a prophet to know that. It is just faith. Faith in the redemptive power of Lav Diaz’s art works.