Apparently, Philippines/Filipino cinema is hip these days. The names Lav Diaz and Raya Martin and Brilliante Mendoza keep appearing as I click across the internet. Adrian Martin, commenting on the fickleness of film culture, calls Filipino cinema "hot."
Intent on staying hip, I sought out a Filipino film last month. I had never seen one before, and the only Filipino film name I knew was Lino Brocka. But his films looked boring. I looked around some more and discovered the name Raya Martin. He is young, he is smart, and (it seems) he likes old movies. Furthermore, he is somebody I would hang out with (at coffee shops and cinematheques).
Filipino films are not easy to find here (must be why they are so hip), but eventually (it came to pass that) I saw Raya Martin's A Short Film About the Indio Nacional.
I did not understand it. There is stuff about a bell-ringer and a solar eclipse and a revolutionary; what's it all about? I know nothing of Filipino history, and the whole thing seemed foreign and inaccessible. The style intrigued me -- Martin obviously understands early cinema techniques -- but I felt there was a depth of symbolism and emotion that I could not begin to penetrate.
I read around online. "Indio Nacional" is the (common) people. They lived under Spanish colonial rule until the 20th century (the film is set in the 1890s, the beginning of cinema + the end of Spanish rule). This did not explain what I was watching.
Finally, I found help from blogger Oggs. He writes:
The film is elliptical. It begins with prolonged woe, with the wife's troubles and the husband's suggested sorrowful past, continues with a recounting of history, and ends with a conclusion of a nation's destiny of sadness. Martin is of an age group of Filipinos who have been deprived of history. History is merely learned through schooling, through books whose own sources are questionable results of centuries of colonial rule. Simply put, Martin is of an age where the history learned is the history of the privileged. The heroes of the Philippine Revolution are the illustrados, the wealthy, the learned and the titled. The indios (commoners) are merely pawns, foot soldiers of a revolution that led to the nation's supposed freedom from the clutches of colonialism. But has the nation outgrown its colonial masters when its own history is clouded by foreign historians who have neglected the stories of the common folk? Martin, through the film, has visualized his belief that ours is a nation that is bereft of a national identity. He fashions a film that could have been made by any native Filipino, if handed a video camera while in the midst of the Philippine Revolution. He will not capture the drafting of treaties or the promulgation of constitutions or other grandiose moments in written history. Instead, he will capture are the ordinary, the droll and mundane, non-effects of the War. There will be an abundance of religious articles, simply because that is what he was force-fed with. There will be numerous deaths, because that is the logical repercussion of poverty and slavery. There will be humorous sketches that display the Filipinos' ignorance and deprivation of knowledge.Having puzzled over the film for a few weeks, I finally realized I was approaching it the wrong way. Why did I see a symbol-heavy historical commentary? The film is nothing more than a reclamation of history for those without it. It is a film made in the 1890s, but which could only be made 100+ years later. That, I have to say, is pretty cool/fascinating.
I have a lot of Filipino cinema to catch up on if I am to be hip. I imagine they are as difficult and novel as this. I hope that I can see another of Raya Martin's films soon. Or, even better, hang out with him and talk about movies and just be all around awesome.
some blog reviews:
Lessons From the School of Inattention
the persistence of vision
Critic After Dark