From our moderator A
Have seen Lav Diaz' groundbreaking Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang pilipino in an 11h screening last week here in Berlin. The Director was present to discuss the film at the end of the screening.
First let me say that I feel the importance of this film, not just for World cinema in general (its length, its 11year production-span, its uncompromising vision in a "postmodernist" film culture, etc.,etc.) but more importantly for the Filipino people, as the director himself has stressed on numerous occasions. The Film deals with the time span from ca. 1971 to 1987, and offers a caleidoscopic look onto individual life`s that are nevertheless represantative for society as a whole. In between we have some documentary footage, which is wholly integrated in the films flow and structure, an integral part along with fictional interviews (with Lino Brocka, among others), and the films narrative. The film was shot in grainy black and white, first on 16mm, later on Digital camera, and projected on Beta Video, so the approach in blurring the lines between fictional and non-fictional seems even more succesfull. As to why it was shot in this way, the director stated that the main cause was a lack of any financial backup, so that he had to shoot the film on weekends and when he had saved enough money himself to afford it. The script was reportedly written before or during the shoot, and there was much room for improvisation on set. Also three actors died during the period of shooting, which didn`t make things any easier. The film is in the end an uncompromising vision of Lav Diaz ofg philipino society and the possibilities in film that seems heavily indebted to Bresson.
The problem I have with this, is my doubt wether such a film, which is unable to reach a (broad) audience in its home country, mainly due to heavy censorship restrictions that are still in use in the Philippines, but also my concern that the philipino people don`t want to be confronted with their past, and of course even less so in the course of an 11h film that demands constant interaction on the viewer`s part.
The structure of the film is reminiscent of Tarantino, when the film often jumps in time, but mostly it`s Bresson`s late stylistic approach, when Diaz presents the effect before the cause, avoids any "psychologization" of the characters, mostly avoids acting (instead Bresson`s models come to mind), and the film is composed of many wide-shots and few close-ups, a distance betwwen subject and object, etc. etc.. There also Tarkovski`s sense of the mystical, mostly within dream sequences, and Antonioni`s preoccupations with landscapes. But the film doesn`t succeed in a consistent amalgamation of these elements, as one can literally observe Diaz` own evolution as a filmmaker during the eleven hours screening time. Unfortunately because of the films non-chronological and non-linear nature it becomes often very uneven to watch.
For me, the first three hours were a joy to watch and would have made a "whole" film on their own, but from there on the film often seemed unsuccessfully repetitive and at times even uninformative. As is the case with many directors debuts, it tries to do too much and never feels as an entity. Numerous topics are touched on, but aren`t traced for a sufficient amount of time. Also the films tendency to mix absolutely everything with everything, resulting in an obvious genre-blending that to me didn`t seem desired by the director, as well as the films-self-reflectivity and it`s acts of irony and even parody, which sank the film in the end. Like a boat made for 5 people but filled with 50.
Of course most of these things were designed by the director, but there`s a difference between an idea and its execution, and so many efforts seem well meant, while the results tend to disappoint or were seen by me as a failure. A sad thing to be said about such an enormous undertaking, but the phenomenal concept does "only" lead to an above average, solid result. It`s historical and social importance left aside, the film as FILM is sometimes take it or leave it. The viewer is thus left to fill in the gap between what Diaz wanted to be seen and felt on screen and what actually is, but because of Diaz' clear vision this was mostly a task easily accomplished. Maybe it sounds preposterous after all I`ve said, but the film could have been much more than it is.
This said, with such an unprecedented undertaking (as to my knowledge) this criticism is a minor one. In the end it was a very rewarding night, with lots of tired but satisfied faces in the morning, and a short but sympathetic talk with the director. I hope his enormous skills as a filmmaker and his visionary approach towards cinema and film will lead to even greater works in the Future, but for now this film is, be it as it is on its artistic level, a must-see for any cineaste or person interested in Philippine social history.
Evolution is the first part of a trilogy, the second being "Batang West Side" completed in 2002 before Evolution, and the third being currently in production according to Diaz. "Batang West Side" will be shown next week, and I will try to attend it`s screening, so more on this later.
And please excuse my bumpy review, as I was planning only to type down some informative thoughts, but ended up writing too much and far too little for getting a precise idea of the film and it`s wide reaching surroundings, but hopefully it will generate more interest. The film has been until know shown at about 15 international film festivals and more are to come (currently it`s Flanders I think), but the screenings have a dicrepancy in their lack of attendance compared to the importance of its subject. I urge you to read some articles on the film and on Diaz, and hopefully there will be a much greater discussion when the third part is released. It is desperately needed!