Fraternal Sobriety in Raya Martin’s Autohystoria (2007) December 3, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Indie Sine, Noypi, UP Screening.
Written and directed by Raya Martin
Cast: JK Anicoche, Lowell Conales
Grand Prize Winner, 2007 Cinemanila International Film Festival
The risk of too much indulgence is that once a filmmaker lays all his cards and insists on it, the less his work becomes interesting. Aside from knowing which film to watch, loyal followers of cinema should also learn to deal with the idea that in every great film, there is always a touch of cruel indulgence in it — may it be In The Mood For Love’s drifting romance, Andrei Rublëv’s soporific images, Baryoke’s moments of narrative flight, or All About Lily Chou-Chou’s disconcerting details — the relationship is mutual. This is what clearly defines the line between a director and a filmmaker. A director interprets; a filmmaker criticises. Whether he loves his images too much that he chooses not to edit it (or color-correct it either) or he wants a jump-cut in every .0005 seconds of his film, it is just a matter of preference. Furthermore, cinematic indulgence is not only limited to form, as what local digital films these days may prove. Quite a few, like Mes de Guzman and Brillante Mendoza, are benignly lenient to their stories that seeing them is a breath of fresh air. But right now, only two among local filmmakers are capable of doing both, that is, indulgence in form and content, at the same time: Lav Diaz, whose works are constant reminders of artistic defiance, and his younger contemporary Raya Martin, whose films go beyond the shaky boundaries of his age.
The production of meaning is very critical in Autohystoria. How does one know what this film is about? How could he derive a meaning, a flow of narrative, and an understanding from those images? How could we not hate him for his long takes and ambiguity? How could we stand more than an hour of prolonged equivocacy, and, like I mentioned — such cruel indulgence? How could we? Frankly because this man is saying something, and we ought to listen to him — not to weep like his characters do but at least join them in their weeping — to rekindle years of forgotten memories — a national weeping to overflow the seas that surround us.
So does the magic of this film: you don’t have to know what it is to understand it. Everything feels so familiar — the conspicuous wandering from one place to another, the beauty of nature that we’ve lost, our lives turning into smaller and smaller circles, and our past that continues to elude us, to escape our grasp, as if we never needed it, why do we have to know our history anyway? isn’t it why it is called past? why bother to remind us of our suffering, of our failed coups d’etat, of our uprisings that went to waste? why lose ourselves in these things? (Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn’t life under the sun just a dream? Isn’t what I see, hear, and smell just the mirage of a world before the world?*)
Autohystoria is a leap from Martin’s previous effort, Maicling Pelicula Ñang Ysañg Indio Nacional; from an elegy and now to a eulogy, it clearly shows his distinct calibre as a filmmaker, the way he weaves historical events and contemporary lives — nothing much is different between them I suppose — and his insistence to deliver a work not for himself but for a muster of lost souls, of an indignant population, of a forgotten race — clamoring to be heard, whispering boisterously. Like A in Ulysses’ Gaze, Martin begins his journey across epic boundaries to search for the lost reels of history we once had, of our past overkilled by apathy, of our memories drowned by sorrows, of our efforts to recover them but to no avail — and such cruel indulgence is rewarded by a bittersweet symphony, a hymn of an endless quest for one’s self, both constantly and consciously, in the land of imagined existence.
As Dodo Dayao perfectly encapsulates the feeling: “. . . Its subtext – – – that political homicide is in our blood – – – runs hardwired with marrow chill and black voltage, but its visceral jolt is the volatile that stays with you.” It kills. * * * *
*From Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987)