By Sascha Krieger
Ang Panahon ng Halimaw (Competition / Philippines / Director: Lav Diaz)
It will haunt you, this monotonous „la la la“ that sounds like a threat, a weapon, a death sentence. It is introduced by the leader of a paramilitary militia somewhere in the Southern Philippines during Martial Law in the late 1970s. This is where Lav Diaz, decorated with a Silver Bear and a Golden Lion just in the past two years, takes us in his new film (though he is not interested in visual historical accuracy). They rule a village with violence and intimidation, hold their subjects in check with a made up religion of fear and persecute dissenters. Violence is an everyday act. It happens in the distance or is at least partially blocked from view. The camera is a detached observer, distant cold, most of the time freezing its world in still frames. A small world it is – country lanes, the interior of shacks and huts, a field, the militia’s headquarters. The perspective never widens, the outside world though not absent doesn’t matter, it stays out or gets sucked in. The characters do not talk, they sing. This may be film history’s first a capella musical. The militia’s songs are monotonous, restrictive, ritual, when imagination takes flight as in the case of the unexplained muse singer accompanying poet Hugo coming to town when his doctor wife is abducted, who expresses a universal hope and sorry that the people living her cannot and must not convey themselves. The singing creates distance, it forces the viewer to listen, to shed expectations and allows him to see things in a fresh way. It makes the unheard heard and lifts the banal up to the universal. For what is happening here is not restricted to this time and place, the struggle between oppression and resistance a never-ending cycle. Diaz‘ slow clean black and white images, drenched in a magic light, bright and twilight-like at the same time, real and as from a dream, convey a cold world, pale, gripped with fear but also poetic, imaginative, bursting rules just by defying logic, staying on a scene for way too long or depicting the seemingly irrelevant. For life happens outside the framework of rules, freedom is stubborn and finds its niches. Ang Panahon ng Halimaw creates its own wold, space, time, a fascinating, mesmerising song of life, with its own rules that free and don’t restrict. May the river of life, meandering but ploughing on, sweep away the dark. As in this memorable, dream-like, gentle and mind-shattering film.