It is strange to watch a (very) short film by Lav Diaz. I’m so used to his lengthy cinematic works that it is sometimes difficult to imagine to spend only ninety minutes in front of a screen. Or even less. Butterflies Have No Memories (which I might write about before Xmas) is only forty minutes long. But even this is too long compared to Diaz’s contribution to the omnibus Imahe Nasyon. Philippine directors were asked to make a film no more than five minutes in length, which should reflect their views on society after the 1986 revolution, now termed the People Power Revolution, in which president Ferdinand Marcos was ousted.
Imahe Nasyon is a compilation of twenty films by twenty filmmakers, covering twenty years of post-revolutionary history. Imahe was released in 2006 in its own country, but has seen no release in the rest of the world. A real shame. The sequences are great.
Diaz contributed to the omnibus, and even though the film is only eight minutes long (yes, he exceeded the five minute mark), it has the feel of a real Diaz film. The film opens with a shot through an open door. The camera is at a low angle. It starts off in sepia, which is very interesting for his way of filmmaking. It stands in contrast to his other films. A voiceover supports the imagery.
A woman is standing with an umbrella at the entrance, seemingly waiting. A male voice explains that his mother had left when the rain stopped. Indeed, after a little while, she is seen leaving. She leaves the right hand side of the frame, and we see what looks like an empty, ravished garden.
There is nothing else happening for four minutes. We remain with the shot of the empty garden (though it could easily not be a garden…), shot through the open door. From time to time, we see cars driving past in the far background, but it’s actually a temps mort of four minutes. Until, after four-and-a-half minutes, a man comes from behind our viewpoint and leaves the house (disappears on the left hand side of the frame). The voiceover remarks: “I saw father leaving.”
There is an eerie, lengthy temps mort again, in which we don’t quite know what will happen next. Or rather, if there would be something happening at all. And yes, a lovely turn, in fact, happens towards the very end of the film. A young boy walks into the house, look towards the camera, thus towards us, and the voiceover states: “I found myself.”
Nang contains themes at the heart of every one of Diaz’s films; the history of his country, revolution, colonialism, the effects on today’s society. The young boy might have found himself, but he has most likely never seen his parents again. I imagine Diaz implied in his films that they had been killed. This is only an assumption, though. What makes me think this is the teenage girl seen in his eight-hour film Melancholia, basically an orphan after an unnamed revolution, in which both her parents disappeared (most likely got killed). She, too, has found herself (her self) in the course of the film, but not exactly in a good way.
As short as the film is, it is a to-the-point statement about the past (and present?) happenings in a deeply conflicting society that still suffers from the aftermath of political turmoil. For me, Nang summarises all of Diaz’s work. Nang is a (very slow) synopsis of Diaz’s engagement with Philippine history, society and politics.