Dates for Lav Diaz retrospective in Brussels

The schedule has finally been published and I’m happy to list the dates of the Cinematek’s Lav Diaz retrospective here, starting in mid-September and lasting until the end of November. Diaz’s films will be shown in chronological order, starting with is more commercial Naked under the Moon and ending with his Yolanda documentary Storm Children Book I. In connection to this retrospective, the Cinematek also shows a few other Filipino films in order to contextualise Diaz appropriately. I will also be involved in the Lav Diaz symposium at the University of Antwerp at which Michael Guarneri and I will give a lecture, followed by a screening of Storm Children and a roundtable discussion with Diaz.

Here are the dates for you:

10 September, 19.30 – A conversation between me and Tom Paulus from the University of Antwerp about Lav Diaz and his filmmaking. We will explore film aesthetics, Slow Cinema and Philippine Cinema in a bit more detail. The talk is followed by the screening of Diaz’s Naked Under the Moon at 21.30.

12 September, 17.30 – Batang West Side (2001), 315min

16 September, 18.00 – Hesus, Rebolusyanaryo (2002), 112min

20 September, 10.00 – Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004) [this film is cut into two parts and will give the viewer an hour’s break|, 593min

27 September, 13.00Heremias, Book I (2006), 540min

18 October, 13.00Death in the Land of Encantos (2009), 540min

25 October, 15.00 – Melancholia (2008), 450min

29 October, 21.30Prologue to the Great Desaparecido (2013), Butterflies Have No Memories (2009), 31min + 59min

1 November, 17.30 – Century of Birthing (2011), 360min

3 November, 20.30 – An Investigation into the night that won’t forget (2012), 70min

8 November, 17.30Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012), 360min

10 November, 10.30 – Lav Diaz symposium at the University of Antwerp

11 November, 14.00 – Norte, The End of History (2013), followed by a conversation with Lav Diaz

12 November, 19.30 – Manila in the Claws of the Light (Lino Brocka, 1975), preceded by a conversation with Lav Diaz

20 November, 17.30From What Is Before (2014), 338min

26 November, 19.30 – Storm Children, Book I (2014), 143min

For more info on the films and other Filipino films the Cinematek is screening, please refer to the official website.

Plenty going on and ample opportunities for you to see a Lav Diaz film on a big screen. I’m trying to be there for most films and introduce them as well. I will obviously also be around for the talk on 10 September and for the symposium on 10 November. Maybe I can meet some of you?

Jauja – Lisandro Alonso (2014)

When Lisandro Alonso presented his new film Jauja at one of the big festivals last year (I can’t remember whether it was Rotterdam or another festival), critics wrote that the Argentinian director had upped his game. They said the same when Lav Diaz presented Norte, a film which demands a lot less work from the viewer than all his other works. Throughout the film I could see why critics celebrated Jauja. It’s a great film which is based on superb cinematography. Visually, it’s a stunning film. And yet, and yet…there is a but.

First of all, however, I need to say that Jauja differs greatly from Alonso’s other films. There is no longer a signature of the director recognisable. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when slow-film directors break with their usual filmmaking (which make their films so captivating) and make them more accessible that critics begin to get interested. In short, there is a pattern behind critics’ choices of what a good slow-film constitutes, and this is accessibility. If they have to use their brain too much, they won’t like it.

Jauja is a film, which differs in its structure because it is no longer focused on day-to-day activities. The focus on the “real” has been put aside for the sake of a fictional narrative, which, in some ways, simplifies the viewing process. Fictional narratives come with the promise of entertainment. The depiction of everyday activities, on the other hand, comes with the promise of “boredom”. The shift to fictional film makes it easy to see why critics have suddenly found an interest in Alonso’s film.

Regardless of my ongoing suspicion when it comes to critics’ sudden interest in certain slow films, I’m impressed with Alonso’s development. Especially the cinematography of Jauja is superb. The framing, almost a square 1:1, makes for an interesting viewing. Xavier Dolan chose a similar framing for his latest film Mommy but the effect is completely different. In Mommy, the square frame represented claustrophobia and tension. In Jauja, the square framing counters the content of the frames – vast, empty landscapes. Alonso’s depth-of-field supports the magic representation of the landscape, the depiction of characters being in the middle of nowhere.

I found that Jauja was similar to two other films. Lars von Trier’s Dogville is one film that popped into my head when I watched Alonso’s film. The set-up within the frames as well as the acting reminded me strongly of the theatrical set-up in Dogville. It often felt as though Jauja was a theatre play projected on screen. I had problems considering myself as a film viewer. It was a confusing experience, but rich because of it.

Another film which came to mind was Gus van Sant’s GerryJauja is a film about a search; a father searches his missing daughter. He walks through vast landscapes, the camera following him or at least watching him from a distant. If there is one film that comes close to the visual feeling (I’m aware this “concept” doesn’t exist, but I cannot describe it in any other way), then it is GerryJauja is the first film by Alonso, which contains clear references to other films, regardless of whether the director has included them consciously or unconsciously.

Jauja certainly is a great film, although, while impressed, I’m also a bit wary of how Alonso develops. Of course, changes are welcome, but I hope that he won’t go too far in future. His other films were remarkable because of their sheer observational nature. It felt as though you were part of something. Jauja is a film for the passive spectator (which, again, is great for critics/viewers who can’t be bothered). The film attempts to use memories/dreams as a bridge between past and present. At the end of the film, the film cuts to seemingly present-day Denmark.

It is this part which worries me about Alonso. It was unnecessary. Until then the film was superb. The last part completely disrupted the atmosphere. The long-takes suddenly felt wrong. They didn’t work. The narrative was superfluous. The idea behind the link of past and present was good, but the execution was disappointing, given that Alonso has always paid attention to character instead of narrative. Jauja is a departure from this. He shifts his attention to narrative and we will see where this will lead him.

Lav Diaz Retrospective in Manila

This is the first part of hopefully many that will accompany my journey through the organisation of a major retrospective of Lav Diaz’s works in his native country. While museums and galleries outside the Philippines commit to retrospectives – the next one to take place is that in Paris in November this year – his own country is still a bit behind with those things. Given his growing popularity, if you can use this word, time is more than rife for a retrospective in Manila.

When I met Diaz last August in Locarno, we played with the idea and I had been keen for a while to organise an event of such a scale, primarily for the home audience, in order to get a picture of the whole oeuvre of a director they now start to celebrate after the success of both Norte (2013) and From What Is Before (2014). It will also be a good end point for my work. I will submit my thesis in the next couple of months. Then I will turn the material into a book, which I plan to publish myself. The idea is to launch the book at the very latest at the start of the retrospective, which I am currently planning for August 2017.

If financially possible, I would like to invite one or two people who are as familiar with Lav’s work, which would allow me to step back without having to introduce every single of his films 🙂 I also work on the idea of a panel discussion, but not with scholars alone. I’m more keen on getting the viewers involved, possibly with no background in film. It is those viewers that often have the most insightful reading of films.

I have started to contact venues in Manila in the hope that there will be at least one which is willing to host the retrospective. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I do some fine tuning on the programme and let you know once I have been successful to secure a location for this very long and slow endeavour. In worst case, I’ll bring a projector and we do pop-up screenings. In any case, this retrospective will happen!

Please share widely and rally for support 🙂

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido – Lav Diaz (2013)

It’s rare that Lav Diaz creates a short film. His contribution to a film omnibus for the Venice Film Festival last year was, I think, his shortest film to date, followed by his eight minute film (one take only) for Imahe Nasyon, another film omnibus. His thirty minute short Prologue to the Great Desaparecido sits comfortably in this range of short films, though it is difficult to judge whether this one can be seen as a stand-alone film. The title says it all – it is merely a prologue to a feature film.

The film had been produced with the help of dissidenz films with seat in Paris, and even though dissidenz is not a mainstream company at all, the film has a feel to it that is not entirely Lav Diaz. I’m not entirely sure how to describe. I can only say that I had a similar, albeit much worse feeling with Norte, The End of History (2013). You can kind of feel that there is a Western producer involved, I don’t know. You could call me paranoid, but I really had a weird feeling watching this.

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Anyway, Prologue is a rather difficult film in that it is a mere snippet of what the full-length feature will be like. Plus, it is a direct depiction of a historical event that may be totally unknown to most of the people who have seen the film so far. For all of Diaz’s films it is advisable to read a bit about the history of the Philippines. But I think that Prologue, and the coming feature film, demand a bit more knowledge about the revolution and Bonifacio’s role in it. I gathered that this film would be even less of a sit-down-and-eat-popcorn film than all the others. It’ll probably use more of your brain instead.

When I watched his most recent feature film, From What Is Before (2014), I had the impression that he began to experiment with the camera, which was no longer static and on eye-level. He used canted angles in Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), but there was one shot in From What Is Before that looks very deliberately artistic – something you hardly ever come across in his films. It’s something I always liked in a way.

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Truth is, signs of experiments are visible in Prologue already. I felt that there was generally more movement, which he did experiment with before – a handheld moving camera is particularly visible in Encantos. But the most striking difference to all other films is that many shots are low angle shots. You are always looking up to something. It brought a new feeling to his films, which was awkward at first, but only because I’m very used to his usual static eye-level camera shots. Are we looking up to the Heavens? Maybe…

Prologue, overall, makes little sense on its own. Because it is only a prologue, it feels very rushed for a Lav Diaz film. It is a snippet, and this is the one thing Diaz is usually not known for. He depicts conditions in detail. In slow and very long detail. Now, this is not to say that I didn’t like Prologue because it was short. I simply find it an unfortunate project that doesn’t quite live up to what it had promised. If it had been a stand-alone short, it would have been great. But this really deserves to be extended to a full-length feature film in order to get to the bottom of history again. So I’m looking forward to the final project. I kind of wonder just how long a woman can look for her disappeared husband. Hours (on screen), I guess.

Interview with Lav Diaz (Extracts, Part II)

This is the second part of my rather long interview with Lav Diaz, conducted at the Locarno Film Festival. You can find the first part here.

Nadin Mai: What I find interesting is that you say you’re a kind of teacher, you want to open people’s eyes, to let them know what has happened in the country and what is still happening in the country. But then, in all of your films you have some really horrible scenes. Especially Florentina is exceptionally strong for that. Even though you don’t show anything explicitly, you would nevertheless like to close your eyes and ears. You just don’t want to be there. So how does this actually work? On the one hand you want to open our eyes, and yet you show something so cruel, where we say: we actually don’t want to see it.

Lav Diaz: It’s a confrontational thing. You have to confront the psyche. Fear is very inherent. And one thing that opens people’s eyes, their awareness, is to confront their fears, destroy the fear. That factor is always part of why people wouldn’t embrace history, the truth of history, because there is this denial thing. One way to confront it is just do it hardcore. You don’t show the thing but it’s there. So it’s one thing to confront the fears. I’m trying to be more dialectical. Destroy the world of fear.

NM: That’s the interesting thing. You don’t really show violence, not on screen. You convey it through aesthetics. In Florentina it’s mainly sound. Why do you not put violence directly on screen?

LD: I don’t need it. It’s there.

NM: Do you think it’s stronger if you don’t show it?

LD: Yes, of course. It’s stronger, because it’s more inert, more inside. The fear is more inside. The fear to confront it. If you see it, then it’s just a horror film.

NM: Do you think the viewer would lose a sense of realism if you showed it? Because he knows that it’s not real.

LD: It depends on the treatment. There are filmmakers who can show violence and it’s still very powerful. And there are filmmakers who don’t show it. And it’s more powerful. It depends on the treatment. You have to adjust to the flow of the story also. When that moment comes, then boom. It’s not manipulated but you gain that momentum and when it’s there then it will destroy their fear. … I want them to destroy their fears also.

NM: Is it perhaps also a budget issue?

LD: It’s a cliché [violence is a cliché]. To be cruel, doing all this gore and blood like Tarantino. And they’re enjoying all these things now. They enjoy the blood. They clap their hands: wow! Blood all over the walls. Wonderful! So the fear is very superficial. It’s not true anymore. While if you show it in a more primal way you gain that kind of momentum that evil is just around the corner. And you know it. Then it’s better this way.

NM: How often are your films screened in the Philippines? I know that Norte made big waves in the country.

LD: Yeah, it’s the most popular. Before that, of course, it was Batang West Side. But Batang West Side has gained this mythical status where people, even those who haven’t seen it, say it’s good. … As I said to you a while ago, only a small percentage of the population has seen my works. But I’m not complaining because I am aware that there is this struggle of, the issue of venues. The people are also so used to Hollywood … If you tell them that the film is five hours, they will not come. The people who come are the followers and the curious. … The curious will be converted or they will hate you more, depending on how they will see the work, depending on the condition they are in when they enter the film. …They cannot believe that there is cinema like that. Their understanding of cinema is Hollywood. So, I’m aware of that. I’m not complaining. But at the same time, like I told you a while ago, there is the burden, the guilt. They say, why do you not do shorter works so that people will see it, if you say you’re responsible? How can I be responsible when it’s already compromised? Cutting it to two hours just because you need to cut it for the audience, then it’s a compromised work already. It’s gone. Don’t do cinema at all. I’d rather be selling barbecues out there. Yes, it’s true. I don’t compromise the work so that you can have a so-called audience. No way.

NM: Why do you think Norte is so popular in the Philippines?

LD: Hard work, and it’s shorter. It’s four hours and thirty minutes, and the producer, Moira and the new owner of the film, they’re tireless. They keep showing the film. They’re very good at that.

NM: Where do you have your biggest fan base?

LD: Europe. Because of the festivals. … I’m very thankful of these people. The critics here in Europe who watch the films and do the programs.

NM: Do you think that Europeans can understand your films?

LD: Yes, of course. It’s also the culture. Europeans are more into digging things. To work hard. To understand cultures. I use the word, they’re not lazy. Europeans are not lazy. … We’re fucking lazy. And put this on the level of the critics. The critics here are more into it than the ones in Asia. There are no books in the country, no books about cinema. It needs to be addressed. How do we treat the works there? Imagine, there have been a lot of retrospectives of my work outside, but not inside the country. It’s insane. Even for me, I couldn’t fathom it. They’re been doing all these retrospectives… But in the Philippines, no. There’s jealousy, there’s resentment, like I told you.

NM: With very few exceptions – Norte is the most recent one – your films are all black-and-white. I personally see that as supporting the narrative of poverty and suffering. Is that why you use black-and-white?

LD: Yes, yes. Colour to me is very very deceptive. It creates a certain aura of lightness. It’s my perception as an artist. Yeah, it’s true. You got it. I want to do black-and-white to give justice to what the film is representing. Like poverty – it’s better in black-and-white. Suffering is better in black-and-white. And beyond poverty and suffering, for me, cinema is black-and-white.

NM: I remember from yesterday [the public conversation at the festival] that you sometimes watch colour films in black-and-white.

LD: Yes, I do that all the time. A lot of works, I don’t want to see them in colour, so I put black-and-white. Some works that are short, I put them on my computer and change the whole thing to black-and-white and watch them. Colour obscures my view. It allows me to not really understanding the work. But when it’s in black-and-white, I’m into it.

NM: You can focus on the story.

LD: Yeah. I’m into it, I’m into it. It’s just there. Maybe it’s just a fixation because I’m so used to watching films in black-and-white. It could be that. It’s just a fixation maybe. A fetish. It could be a fetish. For me, it’s that. Cinema is black-and-white. But I can make colour films. But if I do it, I’m very very careful. Just like Batang West Side, I put a lot of time doing the grading.

NM: Batang West Side had a limited colour palette. That’s completely different from Norte.

LD: With Norte, we did a lot of things in the grading to de-saturate so many things. Because it’s really beautiful, the colours there. So we sat down and I had to de-saturate on so many levels, in so many parts of the film. You see, it’s so beautiful, it’s obscuring the thing. So I have to de-saturate it. More and more and more. The graders are complaining: there’s no colour anymore! Put some more colour. It’s becoming black-and-white. Oh really? [laughs]

(Part III to follow, stay tuned)

Norte – Lav Diaz (2013)

A couple of months ago, I have posted initial thoughts on Diaz’s new film Norte The End of History. I received a link for an online screener, which I happily accepted as I wasn’t sure if Norte would make it to the UK. Well, it did. In fact, it has become so popular that you find the film at almost all film festivals running at the moment. Not exactly the situation for the Lav Diaz who is known for his black-and-white epic films of eight hours or more. Rather, it’s a situation for a Lav Diaz, who is not in his usual element. 

In my earlier post, I have argued that it’s obvious why critics suddenly got hooked on the film. It is not a mainstream film, but it conforms more to classical filmmaking than all of his other films. Norte is easy food for the audience. It attracts the entertainment-seeker, not necessarily the intellectual cinephile who expects a typical Lav Diaz discourse on the struggles of the world and his people. It pains me to write this, because it may look that I strongly dislike Norte. This isn’t the case. What I dislike instead is the very obvious influence of money on alternative, small-budget filmmaking, which goes – by nature – down to the very basics, the essence of film, the truth; exactly what Diaz is always looking for. Money, on the other hand, seeks something else. If invested, the product needs to be turned into a profitable business. If you make it too hard for the audience to understand the film, you won’t make the film profitable. The director is forced to change his approach and his aesthetics. This is what happened with Norte, as far as I can see. 

Michael Guarneri conducted an insightful interview with Diaz. In it, Diaz speaks about the waste of money and how it has changed the approach to filmmaking. He explained: 

There was so much money wasted, and this is a thing I didn’t like about the shooting. We rented the camera package: very expensive… If we had bought it, the camera could have been used by me and by other fellow-filmmakers, or it could have been rented out by the producers to generate funds. Creating a flow of money and a circulation of ideas to develop film-projects and make more films in our country: to me this is a very important “political” aspect in filmmaking. It is part of the struggle.

So you see technology is an economic issue that has consequences on many levels. Clearly, it affects how the film looks: for example,Norte is a color film and there is much more camera movement than in my other movies. It is not the camera movement you find in commercial cinema, though. It is not flossy camera movement. It’s more about quietly following the characters. It’s still about duration and space as before, but at the same time it is something new for me.

The rented equipment led to tight schedules. Everything had to be rushed. Time is money, and that’s why money isn’t Slow Cinema. You can read the full interview with Diaz here

Returning to the film, though, I find that Norte is less a distinctly Philippine film. I may, in fact, go as far as calling it a “Russian” film. The thought popped into my head after I re-watched Diaz’s Encantos, in which one of the main characters returns to the Philippines after having spent seven years in Russia. He mentions Russian society, literature, cinema. He also says that the Russian and the Filipino struggles are similar. I think that with Norte, Diaz is pursuing his affection for Russian culture (especially literature and cinema) to a new level. 

The film is based on the remarkable Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky (if you haven’t read it, read it!). The story is obviously taken from the book, but so are the characters. Even if Russian and Filipino struggles are similar, I had troubles to see the Filipino character in the film; the character I got to know by spending hours watching Diaz’s films up and down, repeatedly, and by reading interviews with him. I think that in making the work more accessible by using a famous book as a background, the film neglects the actual Filipino. It is perhaps the case because no one would want to know about it, or no one would be willing to understand it. We’re all very aware of Russian literature, and while it’s not at all as mainstream as some English-speaking literature, it is at least more known and willing to be taken up by an audience than an entirely Filipino story. This is our indifference to little known cultures. We apply this to our taste for cinema, too. 

With that strong Russian background, we then also have a levitating character. A special effect that rubs into our face what Diaz would have normally said without special effects, without making it plain obvious what he wants to say. He would have normally been the literati, and suggested something without making it clear. But again, this film had to be profitable, so appealing to the audience’s intellectual thinking wasn’t an option. The film had to offer quick fixes. And before I lose myself in this discussion, I should mention that the levitating character is an homage to Tarkovsky, a director Diaz admires and was influenced by. So we’re not speaking about any special effect here. We are, in fact, again, speaking about Russia. 

The question that should be asked is not whether or not the film is good. Rather, how Filipino is it? How much does it betray its own culture in order to be profitable in the selling of distribution rights? And how is this going to change the filmmaking of Lav Diaz?

Slow Cinema at Rotterdam and Glasgow

The new year starts of nicely for Slow Cinema. The International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Glasgow Film Festival have a range of slow films on offer. If you are around those locations, it’s worth checking their schedules. Here’s a brief overview:

IFFR

Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) – dir Lois Patiño, Spain*

28 – dir Prasanna Jayakody, Sri Lanka*

Another Hungary – dir Dénes Nagy, Hungary*

De chair et de lait – dir Bernard Bloch, France*

Japón – dir Carlos Reygadas, Mexico

Letters from the South (omnibus) – section dir by Tsai Ming-liang

Norte, The End of History – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – dir Ben River, Ben Russell, France/Estonia

Story of my Death – dir Albert Serra, Spain

‘Til Madness Do Us Part – dir Wang Bing, Hongkong*

Slow Cinema

GFF

Harmony Lessons – dir Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan*

Norte, The End of History – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – dir Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, France/Estonia

The IFFR has started yesterday. The Glasgow Film Festival will run from 20 February 2014 – 2 March 2014. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow.

Films marked with an * are suspected slow films. It sounds as if they would be slow, but I can only really tell once I see them. And this won’t be soon as I’m unfortunately not living near Rotterdam, and for someone who doesn’t live in Glasgow either, the scheduling is a bit unfortunate. I will catch the films one day, though.

Happy Slow Year 2014

Here it is, the New Year. I hope you all had a lovely Hogmanay and New Year’s day in your respective countries around the world. I also hope that you have some significant New Year’s resolutions, such as “I won’t live in the fast lane anymore”. Being a snail is so much better, and strangely enough, so much more efficient, says the one who used to do everything fast in order to manage more work. It’s an illusion. Slow is the new fast (and the new efficiency).

Last year was a good year for slow film. I’m sure that 2014 will bring more gems to the surface. I’m hoping to see Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, Albert Serra’s Story of my Death and then there is still Lav Diaz’s Norte which I’m hoping to see on a big screen. There is also the Untitled Lisandro Alonso Project which was originally scheduled for this year.

Those are the big players in Slow Cinema, though. I discovered several new slow-film directors last year, and I’m keen on and confident about finding more this year. Some of you recommended films to me already. I appreciate it. Feel free to recommend more. I’m always happy to expand my slow horizon. I’m looking forward to all the festival announcement and dig into the trailers of the selected films. And then the hunt for films will start all over again.

As for New Year resolutions: I want to get my hands on filmmaking again, though not on anything major. My last post ended with a five-minute video of a candle. It was inspired by the YouTube channel Ten Minutes of Your Life, and my research into Slow Cinema. My aim is it to get a feel for what the filmmakers are doing, enduring, and perhaps even seeing what we might not see. I want to get a practical eye for Slow Cinema, which will inevitably influence my overall research. Not necessarily my thesis work, but my general research output (one day…).

There will be more videos of this kind on this blog. Or rather on a new blog. The videos will not all be photographic, beautiful or have an interesting subject. I merely want to experiment with different things to get a feeling for slow-film making. I know that there is a difference between making a slow feature film, and making a slow five-minutes video. But you need to start somewhere.

Even though I will primarily post the videos on Five Slow Minutes, I will nevertheless reblog some of them on this blog. I just don’t want to run the risk of mixing theory with practice. It’s best if I have two platforms for it.

That said: a Happy New Year to you all. Wishing you all the best in 2014. And always remember: take it slow!

There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Ghandi)

Day 5 – Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (Diaz)

I admit that I have cheated a bit. I didn’t watch the whole six hours in one go. Not the second time. I did so the first time, though. I watched it at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year. So while I am cheating, I’m not really. This film happened to become a very convenient subject for today’s blog. I had to re-watch it for the chapter I’m working on.

Florentina Hubaldo CTE (2012) precedes Norte (2013), and is by all means a Lav Diaz film; shot in black-and-white, giving his characters space and time to develop in their own pace, and dealing with controversial issues that have arisen in the context of colonialism and dictatorship in the Philippines. There is a lot you can say about the film. I found it to be his most complex, and most powerful film to date.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

In short, Florentina tells the story of a young woman of the same name who goes through horrific atrocities committed by her father, and the men he sells her to. She is repeatedly raped and beaten. She has developed CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative condition of the brain, which – as we can see in the film – causes memory loss and severe headaches, and leads to a very slow death. Florentina does have a second narrative strand, which merges with the first around four hours into the film, but the film is nevertheless about Florentina, and her daughter Lolita, or Loleng (her nickname).

Cinematically, I find it significant that Diaz never shows the atrocities. Here and there he shows Florentina’s father being rough on her, but he shows neither the rapes nor the beatings. Everything happens off-screen. The viewer is therefore forced to listen to screams and cries of help. It is a hugely effective method of filmmaking in this case. The uncertainty of what is really happening behind the walls to Florentina is an excruciating pain for the viewer, who is taken on a very intimate journey with a woman who goes through hell.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

There is also an interesting dichotomy between sound and silence in the film, with silence being predominant in her dream-like states, whenever she sees The Giants, which have a historical meaning. But if I start going into this, this entry will never find a worthy ending. So instead, I want to briefly point to the fact that Florentina is a metaphor. The film is not just about an individual. The young woman functions as an example for the whole of Philippine society. In a Q&A that followed the screening at the EIFF last year, Diaz spoke about the effects of colonialism and dictatorships on today’s society. He put Florentina as an individual on the same level as Philippine society. CTE is functions as a drastic and explicit illustration of what colonialism can do to nations.

The repeated maltreatment by Spanish, American, British and Japanese colonisers took its toll on the people. Diaz equated this with the repeated beatings Florentina suffers in the film. Indeed, “rape” has become a historical term these days. There is the rape of Austria (after the Nazis annexed the country). There is the rape of Jugoslawia, of Nanking in China, etc Rape no longer stands for the human act itself. It has become a metaphor for one country’s maltreatment in war of another country. It is a term, which has come to denote simply “power of one agent over another”, no matter in what form.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

So if we think about the treatment of Florentina as an individual, we have to see this in the context of Philippine history (which is dark, I’ve read about it). It is a clever cinematic construct. It criticises predominantly Western nations for getting rid of Philippine culture, and often, Philippine dignity, without being very explicit about it. The film is told through a metaphor, and it is the only slow film I know of that does this in such a successful manner.

Slow Cinema at London Film Festival

The line up for this year’s London Film Festival has ben revealed, and it looks as though it’s going to be a strong and slow festival.

After the success at Cannes and other prominent festivals, Lav Diaz’s Norte will be screened in the category “Dare”. Albert Serra’s new film, Story of my Death, which recently won the Golden Leopard at Locarno, is also part of this category. We have Ben Rivers’ new film A Spell to Ward off the Darkness in the category “Experimenta”.

Apart from these usual suspects, French film Camille Claudel 1915 is also part of the festival. I’m convinced that there are more slow films in the line up than are actually talked about. I have already mentioned that there is a tendency to (deliberately) overlook equally great films, made by unknown directors, such as Yulene Olaizalo. I hope to get to see trailers of most films, and I can hopefully see a few of them in cinema, too.

What will be talked about for sure are the three above-named “big” names. But there is a larger realm of slow film out there. It’s just a question of whether it’ll be talked about. I’m looking forward to the BFI’s own edition of the Sight & Sound after the festival…particularly after they have pronunced Slow Cinema dead after Cannes. It’s going to be an interesting editorial by Nick James, I’m sure!

Update: I forgot to mention Philip Groening’s The Police Officer’s Wife. Groening made that unbelievably beautiful film Into Great Silence a few years ago.