Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Buenas noches, España (2011, Raya Martin)

Instead of awareness-expanding drugs, Raya Martin uses cinema to take viewers to places they have not gone before and to eras they have not lived in. His films, although steeped in stories about Filipinos' struggle for independence, are notorious for triggering intense reactions from casual viewers. Major reason for this is he does not spoon feed his audience. As a result those out-of-the-box historical lessons breeze by the inattentive viewer. His Independencia was wrongly criticized for using obvious sets. A complaining viewer didn’t know that the sets were part of the historical framing of the film.

During the Asian premiere of Buenas noches, España, a nervous Martin advised newbies to enjoy the film’s images with a warning that the aural accompaniment may unnerve several of them. But despite the advice, nearly a fourth of the audience walked out. One of them even blurted out loud that the film 'is crap.'

“Voyage to the Luna”

That title card, with allusions to the 1902 silent film Le voyage dans la lune and the revolutionary painter Juan Luna, is the key to understanding and appreciating the enigmatic, challenging film. The latest Martin film is a noisy, psychedelic, no-dialogue, paranormal incursion and meditation into the illuminating effect of Luna’s paintings on Filipinos during the Propaganda years of 19th century Philippines.

Buenas noches, España is also a trip to the twilight zone. Imagine that you’re a soldier, assigned in 16th century Manila, who gets mysteriously teleported to another Spanish colony, Mexico. You’ll probably end up dazed and confused. The mind-boggling teleportation story, which is said to be true, occurred on the 24th or 25th of October in 1593.

The film starts with what seems to be two people manning a spaceship. As the frame becomes bigger, we see and learn that they are a Spanish couple watching a television program at night. But, instead of black skies outside the window, we see red skies and the whole place seems surreal. This confusion over what is exactly going on is magnified as the minutes go by. Meanwhile, a perplexed viewer seems to trek out of the movie house every minute thereafter.

A title card clears away all confusion as it states that a teleportation occurred. The whole road trip of the couple is the result of something they have imbibed. A synopsis accompanying the Youtube trailer states that they took drugs although it was not shown in the film.

The highlight of the couple’s trip shows them experiencing the splendor of Juan Luna’s paintings at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. The young man, who looks like Jose Rizal in silhouette, gets teary-eyed and filled with much joy. This seems to have been the same experience Martin had when he first discovered the three stunning paintings: the silver medal winner La Muerte de Cleopatra; Los Ferrones; and the Mercado de Portugalete. The bittersweet relationship of Spain and the Philippines is alluded to via the constant focusing of a painting that recalls Luna’s masterpiece Spoliarium, which is an allegory of the oppressive conditions of the Philippines under Spanish rule. A proud and joyful Rizal in his toast to a victorious Luna in 1884 says 'Luna and Hidalgo are as much Spanish glories as they are Filipino' and indirectly suggests that Filipinos should have identical rights as the Spanish. Rizal went on to complete his incendiary novel Noli Me Tangere, an excerpt of which starts the film.

As per experience of mine with most Martin films, there are probably layers of meanings and allusions hiding in some nook and cranny of the film. The silhouette of Rizal appears a couple of times in the movie. Then, there are those references to silent film comedians and films such as The 400 Blows. All these things that I have uncovered, along with the soldier's teleportation story and the unorthodox creative touches, are enough to make me respect the film and artistic vision of the consistently innovative filmmaker, Raya Martin.

Buenas noches, España, just like Tree of Life, should be seen and experienced at least once in a cinema with a good sound system. The buzzing sound design is simply amazing. It is so disturbing that it makes the viewer to focus on the visuals. The viewer gets through the phases of being teleported, confused, irritated, and eventually, enlightened. The minimal title cards are important elements in this one-of-a-kind film. As such, the film is definitely not the starting point for those people interested in the works of Martin. Come to think of it, what film of his is the right starting point?

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