Winner of the Silver Bear Eight Hours, 17 Years: "Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis"
Eight hours might seem like a long time for a film, but Lav Diaz's "Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis" proves the extreme beauty of cinema as an art of time.
I have to start this piece with an apology. My 300 something words here will not render Lav Diaz's mind-blowing film justice. Mathematically, with its running time of 485 minutes, the truth is that I won't even be able to cover one minute of the film with one word; and even if I do, the film experience is definitely beyond any language.
In Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), which spans 17 years, Lav Diaz explores the time of the Filipino struggle against Spanish colonial rule during the late nineteenth century. The beautiful paradox here is that this seemingly epic film is in fact consciously anti-epic and anti-heroic. Throughout the film we barely get to see the face of André Bonifacio, the father of the Philippine Revolution. The execution of Dr. José Rizal, another revolutional key, happens off-screen; all we see is gun tips coming from the camera's direction and a head-on frontal medium shot of weeping women and trembling men. Instead of pretending to be omniscient, Diaz uses the length of eight hours to create a meditative experience, almost like a trance. Instead of heroes, we see ordinary people under turmoil, burdened with their moments of weakness and guilt but also embellished by grace and love. Continuous humming sounds of the tropical jungle; chiaroscuro of stylish contrastive black-and-white; Diaz's trademark one frame and long take. In its mystic and abstract beauty, each frame is a masterpiece of photography – the most elegant way possible to heal a collective historical wound.I will close this piece with a memory of a dinner with Lav Diaz. When I worked as the Chinese director Wang Bing's (王兵) interpreter at the Edinburgh International Film Festival back in 2012, Lav Diaz, a member of jury at that time, took us along for a jury dinner one night. The conversation at the table escaped me, but I clearly remember the aura of coolness and wisdom around him. His eyes seem to have seen through life, in the same way that his camera does.