I Survived a Lav Diaz Film

The first time I heard about Lav Diaz was in the late 90s when he directed Raymond Bagatsing to an Urian Best Actor win in Serafin Geronimo: Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion. I’m not sure if it was one of Regal Films’ pito-pito outputs but I remember that the film was praised by critics. I wanted to watch it then but the film was not shown outside Metro Manila or maybe I just missed it being preoccupied with studies and grades back then.

He directed two more “conventional” films after that, Burger Boys and Hubad sa Ilalim ng Buwan, and I have to admit was very interested on the latter film especially when I saw a trailer where Klaudia Koronel (if my mind is not playing tricks on me) was naked. I wasn’t able to watch either of those movies.

Soon after that, he started doing (very) lengthy films which won the nods of the Urian and film festivals in Venice, Singapore, Brussels, and Fribourg. These films were Batang Westside (2002), Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (2005), Heremias (2006), Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), and Melancholia (2008).

A few weeks back Death in the Land of Encantos was scheduled to be shown at Robinson’s Galleria. I called in sick that day to catch the screening. Armed with chips, nuts, and bottled water I proceeded to the Galleria but found out that the screening was cancelled. I later learned through the internet that our self-appointed moral guardians (aka MTRCB) gave the film an X rating. The MTRCB promptly X’d Encantos after seeing a woman’s naked body 30 minutes into the movie. I was like wtf! Encantos is a 9-hour film. I don’t think that those who were willing to sit through the film would only remember a woman’s naked body after the screening. Heck, if I would want to see a woman naked I could just search “breasts” or “naked woman” in Google or YouTube. Magsasawa ka sa mga imahe ng mga hubad na babae.

When Diaz’s latest opus Melancholia won the Orizzonti Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival this year I read that it was going to compete at this year’s Cinemanila International Film Festival. I vowed to watch the film, by hook or by crook, when it gets shown. Luckily, the screening was scheduled from 12am-9pm on the second Saturday of the festival. Perfect timing.

At 11:00AM, I was at the Gateway Mall bought my tickets, which I knew beforehand was at a hefty 301 pesos, ate my lunch, bought chips and bottled water. The original screening time passed by and 30 minutes later we were still not allowed to enter.

I took my place in a relatively short line and soon after fell into a conversation with a middle-aged lady who came to Gateway with her grandkids. She said they they came to watch High School Musical 3 and she for Melancholia. She wanted to try Diaz’s film (She did not have an inkling who Diaz was or what the film was about.) and see if she would like it. (I don’t think she did. She left 3 hours into the movie.)

At 12:45PM we were finally allowed to enter Cinema 4 but they kept on showing McDonald’s pa-cheeseburger ka naman commercial over and over. Delayed na naman. Worse, I got stuck beside two guys who spoke at various times in (a) straight accented English, (b) straight Tagalog, and (c) Taglish aka conyo-style. They talked about a certain Filipino guy who grew up in Canada, finished college in the Philippines, has not read any Filipino literary work, but has won the Palanca. They then discussed about the way they talk. If they asked for my opinion, I would have told them that they sound pretty much the same to me. Walang pinagkaiba. I pretended to doze off while they talked about Cristy Fermin, then to Kris Aquino, and finally on how they both liked High School Musical. Ggggrrrr!!!

Tikoy Aguiluz saved me by coming in to apologize and inform us that there was a problem with the film’s 1st DV tape hence the delay and if it was okay with us to start with the 2nd DV without an assurance that they would be able to show us the presumably damaged first tape. My thought was we’ve waited for 1.5 hours, let the marathon begin! It was agreed then to proceed with the screening rather than reschedule it on a different date and venue. As Aguiluz left, the guys beside me vacated their seats and didn’t come back. Nanood na lang siguro ng HSM3.

The screening started a few minutes after and ended at 9:30PM. We got to see the 1st tape after the end credits. That was a good thing since my experience wouldn’t have been complete without seeing the film’s first hour.

The main nemesis when watching a film of this length is time itself. I lost count how many times I glanced at my watch to see how many hours I would have to endure the cold. (It slipped my mind to bring a jacket.) Gateway cinemas are cold and to fight the chill I resorted to (a) slip my arms through my shirt sleeves; (b) rapidly rub my forearms with my palm; and (c) wrap my arms around my backpack. I would also repeatedly change positions in my seat. I would slouch, sit upright, sideways, Indian style.

I was willing to endure the hunger (I won’t die foodless for 8 straight hours anyway) but when the film reached its third hour my bladder started acting up and I didn’t want to hold it for another four hours. So in between tapes I hurriedly left the theater, rushed to the CR (there are no comfort rooms inside Gateway Cinemas) and bought a hotdog in a bun (sayang din ang oportunidad para makakain).

Watching the film pushed my patience to the brink, almost to its saturation point. These portions of the film were those with no dialogue. And these were long takes. 15-20 minutes. Sa una akala mo walang nangyayari. Static scene but a figure suddenly appears somewhere in the screen. Sabi ni Philbert Ortiz Dy ng clickthecity.com classic Diaz shot daw ang mga ito. And he is right. Scenes like these permeate Melancholia and it takes sheer willpower to sit through them.

I admit that when I saw these scenes I wanted to fast forward the movie and go to the scenes where there was dialogue. A day after watching the film and after replaying (as much as I could remember) those scenes in my head, realized how great these non-dialogue scenes were. I particularly liked the scene with the male protagonist, the heavy rain, the angry river, and a barge. Memorable also were the jungle scenes especially when the three rebels were sleeping in the dead of night, through heavy rain, against the wet earth, the darkness, and the chirping of the jungle insects. These were hauntingly terrific images.

Naturally, the film had my full attention when there was dialogue. Although these scenes were few and far between, these were engaging dialogue. From the scene where the pimp and the prostitute talk about their love and hatred of the dark, to Cookie Chua’s haunting song about loss and despair, to the conversation between the publisher and his writer-friend about Philippine Cinema, to the principal telling her adopted daughter’s parents’ love story, up to the principal’s rebel-husband’s musings (see below) in the jungles of Luzon.

Why is there so much sadness and too much sorrow in this world? Is happiness just a concept? Is living just a process to measure man’s pain? Are we ever going to see each other again? I’m not afraid of death. I’m more afraid that I won’t see you again.'”

“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.”

When the screening was on its 6th or 7th hour, I vowed never to watch a Lav Diaz film again. It did not only test my patience, it was also physically, financially (haha), emotionally, and mentally draining. After the film I could feel that my eyes were bloodshot and there were early signs of an impending splitting headache.

Aguiluz, after the screening, invited us for beer and wine at the Cinemanila Information booth but I was too shy and too tired to go there alone. It would have been nice if I went and met those people who share the same hobby (or to an extreme – passion) as I do but I’m not wired to be sociable.

A day after watching the film and after replaying scenes in my head, I am again willing to endure another Lav Diaz film. His films, based on Melancholia alone, are an experience like no other. His films are not for everybody. I think my friends would have given up on the 2nd or 3rd hour and most probably would have walked out and watched Max Payne or High Musical 3 instead.

I wondered why the MTRCB X’d Encantos and allowed the screening of Melancholia when the latter movie had graphic sex, foul language, and shots of naked men and women visibly aroused. I’m not complaining. One Diaz film is better than nothing.

After a total of 9.5 hours spent for Melancholia’s screening and its toll on my body and mind I’m proud to say that I survived a Lav Diaz film and craving for more MTRCB be damned.

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