Thursday, July 10, 2014
July 2014. On the same week that the film held its initial albeit limited theatrical run, birthday celebrant Imelda Marcos kissed the glass coffin of her late husband Ferdinand Marcos. Her birthday wish was for the former president to have a hero's burial. She also hinted of a possible run by senator Bongbong Marcos for the presidency in 2016.
Such weird, scary things, and oddball scenarios are not out of place in Lav Diaz's haunting recollection of his adolescence in Southern Philippines. The 338-minute film Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon dealt with aswangs, ritualistic burning of dead bodies, demented saviors, and more.
The film begins with an elderly woman going down the boondocks to join a once-in-a-blue-moon healing session. The rapturous melody of the kulintang gongs accompany the spellbinding dance by the shaman, Bai Rahmah. I felt like standing up and joining the dance. This stunning segment is one of the most uplifting moments I've seen in a Lav Diaz film. However, the ritual is rarely performed nowadays. It is just one of the many Filipino things obscured and plutoed by the Marcos regime.
If there is one scene that aptly captures the film's message of the country entering a dark, tumultuous era, then it would be the nighttime burning of the huts. The static shot shows three huts all ablaze and with a text identifying the place as the Philippines and the year as 1971. There are no cries heard. The sweeping militarization razes through the three major islands of the country. Rampant hamletting, psychological warfare, and other military operations drive away the rural folks. Only ghost towns remain. The song Wala Nang Tao sa Sta. Filomena is playing on my head as I'm writing this.
The remote barrio in the film has an odd mix of Ilocano elders, Maguindanao rituals, deceiving Catholic priest, and roving Batangueña merchant. It is unnamed because it depicts the whole Philippines. It is a hodge-podge of Filipino people and things. Slowly, they disappear. In the end, the barrio is overtaken by paramilitary groups. Human rights abuses go on unimpeded. The tragic events in the barrio are replicated all over the country during the Martial Law years.
In Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (From What Is Before), Lav Diaz shares with the audience what he saw, felt, and experienced during the country's darkest period. Militarization sows fear in the hearts of the Filipinos. Forced evacuations and displacement of people lead to loss of lives and properties. The acclaimed filmmaker also highlights several beautiful rituals that have vanished through the years.
Now, will we allow the likes of the Marcoses to return to Malacañan Palace? Tabi tabi po. Tabi tabi po.