Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:21 pm 
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BOY AND MAN SHELTER IN THE FOREST DURING A TYPHOON IN INDEPENDENCIA

Nostalgia vies with protest in a young experimental filmmaker's movie about colonialism

In this film 24-year-old Raya Martin, the first Filipino director to be chosen for a Cannes Cinefondation film-making workshop, shows the ambition of the very young. He takes on the entire history of colonization in the Philippines as his subject. And he comes from a country that has been colonized and dominated by Spain, then the US, then Japan, then the US again. But Independencia, whose 35 mm camera work is by the French cinematographer Jeanne Lepoirie, and which if you can really separate the two is more remarkable for its lovely evocative black and white look than for its narrative, approaches its subject indirectly. Skillfully appropriating the style of long-ago local studio films (silents, and early talkies) and reveling in their artificiality, soft focus and fixed camera positions, it depicts a young man (Sid Lucero) and his aging mother (Tetchie Agbayani), who slip off into the forest to live in hiding because they feel an invasion is coming -- the invasion of the Americans. (This is not merely symbolic, but happened during the various invasions, that Filipinos escaped and lived dangerous hidden lives in the hinterlands.)

The look evoked is of the films made during the American occupation, while the events take place during the same time. The forest/jungle that dominates the scenes is lush and gorgeous and luminous. The son and mother find an abandoned shack and live there. The son later finds a wounded and raped girl (Alessandra de Rossi) and takes her back to the shack. Later his mother dies. The story jumps forward, after the brief interruption of a segment from a mock-propaganda film justifying American soldiers shooting a boy who steals in a village market, meant to take the place of an old style cinema intermission break, to some years later when the young woman and the son are now living together as husband and wife and have a young son -- or rather, are raising the boy with whom she was pregnant when she arrived (Mika Aguilos). Since he is light-skinned, perhaps he was fathered by an American, and that indeed is indicated by a fugitive line of dialogue earlier.

There are several important sequences of oral storytelling, and a pungent speech in the film's Tagalog language in which the little boy describes exploring and seeing a golden man by a river whose hair and body are so bright he can't look at them. (A savior, or a white oppressor? The boy's father?)

The film, which is rich in insect sounds throughout (as well as intrusive music) ends with a spectacularly loud and lightening-filled typhoon when the little family is broken up. The little boy is left alone and driven over a cliff by the invaders.

At the risk of seeming superficial, one has to say that the visuals are what sing in the film; the narrative is allusive and symbolic and you can make what you want of it, but the images provide immediate rewards. As Deborah Young writes in her Hollywood Reporter review, "Though everything is obviously shot on a studio set with potted plants and a painted backdrop, the effect is to cast the characters into a magical world that can be both quaint and wondrous." Moreover the whole film shows the beauty of shooting with a lens that has a shallow depth of field, and the evocation of silent-era film-making at times is remarkable. Independencia is an experimental work (Raya Martin has spoken of being inspired by Stan Brakhage's painted images in his final shots of the boy, with the colorless landscape suddenly painted red), but visually it is stimulating to the imagination, and the apparent simplicity belies the richness of the effects. Like many a talented young artist, Martin seems self-absorbed, pretentious and naive, proclaiming at Cannes that he hoped people would get "to die for their country and for cinema." Time will tell if his talents will bear solid fruit or get lost in showy gestures. Meanwhile, he has ideas more mainstream cinematographers may want to steal.

Independencia is the second in a trilogy, following A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005), which dealt with the struggle for independence from Spain in the late 19th century and was made in the style of silent films.

Shown at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard series (along with a short, Manila, shown out of competition). Seen as part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival, October 2009.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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