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Biyaheng Lupa (Armando Lao, 2009) October 27, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Festival, Indie Sine, Noypi.

biyaheng lupa

English Title: Soliloquy
Written and directed by Armando Lao
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Coco Martin, Angel Aquino

In an interview by Fanny A. Garcia, entitled “Armando ‘Bing’ Lao: Mula Mainstream Films tungo sa Indie Films, Mula Scriptwriter tungo sa Creative Producer,” Lao expresses his dismay on the lack of credit given to writers, of which he cited how local and foreign film communities regard directors as the sole authors of films. It is a culture, according to Lao, that even the academe is responsible for. Writers are often seen as secretaries of directors, they are obviously treated inferior to them, and most of the time they are neglected in the festival entourage. The writer creates the material, the director interprets it, so how come the director takes most of the credit?

Upon seeing Biyaheng Lupa on its premiere in the 11th Cinemanila Film Festival, I am both a proud student and a pleased audience. His attempt to prove his point in Garcia’s interview clearly shows his sterling ability not just as a writer but also as a director, as he risks to make his strengths and weaknesses visible. For a first film, it is always a good sign to see some weakness. Weakness dictates following, and weakness is truth. Once the disbelief is suspended, Lao starts to guide his characters one by one as their stories unfold and, interestingly, overlap.

The surface of the story initially rests on interest. The bus carries the characters from the city to Legaspi, Albay. Along the way, it picks passengers, halts at bus stops, and drops them off to their destinations. As far as the narrative is concerned, the story is just that, plain and simple. But here’s the trick, when the door of the bus closes, after that moment when the mute character gets into the vehicle, we get to hear what these passengers are thinking. We get to hear their thoughts, their intentions, their motives, their past and their present, their future, their musings on everything—their stories. Lao runs a risk in doing this, as it appears as a limited experiment, but the touch of quirk has made it serious and complex. There is the huge probability of failure—more likely if the material is not handled by the writer himself—but the sensitivity of the “dialogues,” the familiarity of the characters, and the relationship that comes out of them dominate.

What makes it work is that Lao did not take the writer’s cap off his head. He is practically in control. It is a writer’s film by all means, an exercise that shows his range and ability to share a world he created, to allow us to enter it, belong, and mingle with his characters. Through the unconventional storytelling, he is able to deliver a credible introspection of these people. He has also managed to study them more intimately, closer to their heart, and deeper to their soul. We respond to their thoughts—we laugh at them, we feel bad about their chances, we bully their stinking attitude, and we commiserate with their troubles. Lao not only gives them legs to stand, but also an extra pair to stroll around and have fun. The humor connects and pinches, making its style look effortless, believable—praiseworthy.

In Lao’s use of symbolic time, three important points become clear. First, time is very relative to the characters. Second, the characters are one with their realities. And third, the subject is equal to the environment. In our class, Lao barely discussed symbolic time since he was more concerned with real time, pushing us to explore more about our chosen milieus. But he left a short note about the subject, and here it is, in bullets:

> Story is phenomenological

> Timeline is condensed

> Plotting is rhizomic

> Character is subjectified

> Exposition is impressionistic

> Resolution is existential

There are theories involved in Lao’s writing process. He is scrupulous. He tries every possible turn that his story can take. He dresses his characters and puts them in different situations. He checks their credibility, if they speak right, if their problems are reasonable, if their actions are believable. These things are necessary regardless of time mode—dramatic, real, or symbolic—and regardless of the writer’s choice to overlap the three, which is what most of the time happens. Unlike his usual scripts, Biyaheng Lupa is essentially symbolic; the form is noticeable in its use of time, and the handling of the characters in relation to each other. While form is favored, content does not suffer. Each has a story to tell, and each contributes to the portrait that Lao is trying to paint. The tone is carefully sustained, especially when it shifts to “reality”—when the characters are out of the bus and start to talk, when we hear “real” conversations as opposed to meandering thoughts and private musings.

Only in the end it chooses to be dramatic. The execution is poetic, alright, but the effect is out of place. While it could have chosen to end in the long shot of the bridge—that slow, uncertain feeling of staying in the middle of something, the night clad in pitch black, the road ahead enigmatic, the moon and the stars sleeping—it chooses to awaken the emotions we tried to keep away while watching the film by ending with tragedy. It disturbs the beautifully-set mood with a drastic turning point, which pounds my ear with a bit of betrayal, of making the unpredictable and unsatisfying turn. Clearly, this is a writer’s decision.

But what I recognize as weakness in its conclusion is part of Lao’s growth as a writer-director—something inevitable, something natural and understandable. The annoyance to the culture of authorship has pushed him to wear both hats; and seeing him now control his own material, imagining him taking chances with the possibilities not only with words but also with sounds and images, is welcoming. It is every writer’s dream: his contribution to be acknowledged. And Biyaheng Lupa—with the ripeness of its concept and the completeness of its thought—makes every writer in this side of town happily proud.

* Garcia, Fanny A. “Armando ‘Bing’ Lao: Mula Mainstream Films tungo sa Indie Films, Mula Scriptwriter tungo sa Creative Producer”. MALAY, Vol. 21 No. 2. Pamantasang De La Salle, Filipinas. 2009.


1. sunshine - November 3, 2009

i’ve always believed that there is no one person who owns a film. unlike other works of art, it is very much a collaborative work. one thing i learned from scriptwriting workshops (both under ricky lee and bing lao) is that a script is never a final work. true enough, i’ve seen really bad films with great scripts, and really good films with bad scripts (and this is based on seeing the actual script). it’s hard to judge based on just seeing the final output or the film since the director makes calls on the scripts as well. it’s hard to point out where the work of the writer ends and the director’s starts.

2. Richard Bolisay - November 4, 2009

Bulls eye, Sunshine. But if you look at it “realistically,” the producer owns the film. That’s the way it has always been.

3. Oggs Cruz - November 4, 2009

I read Lao’s script for this. It’s very different from the film. I wonder what was going through Lao when he was making the film, deciding that some of what he has written cannot be pulled off in the final product… Is there a conscious effort of dividing himself between writer and director, knowing fully well that if he deviates from the script, that’s a director’s call and it can be seen as a failure of the writer to think outside of the word processor?

4. Richard Bolisay - November 4, 2009

Well, I haven’t read the script, but as with most screenplays, not everything can be filmed – – often because of financial reasons, but sometimes just plain unworkable. I’m sure there is a conscious effort, as he takes two roles into one, and it’s his last call to decide (maybe along with producer Joji Alonso) on things. In that case, I wouldn’t call it failure but part of the process of discovery. The world of writing is different from the reality of translating the text into film. There’s less freedom of course, but I guess that’s the “fun” part.

5. Edgar Allan Paule - November 7, 2009

Well, a screenplay is just a blueprint. Translating it to screen entails compromises, adjustments and perhaps, overhauls. Any screenwriter would know that.

6. Rites of Passage « Sinewaya - November 7, 2009

[…] para mapasok ng mga manonood ang kanilang pagmu-muni-muni. Pero yun na nga, tama ang nauna nang rebyu ng pelikula. Ang Biyaheng Lupa ay isang “writer’s film.” Maaaring projection ito ni Lao sa […]

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