My cinema is free
'Embrace the film as you experience it.' Evasive as ever, the responses to questions given by Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz reflect his own filmmaking style at the press conference for his latest film Mula sa kung ano ang noon (From What Is Before) in competition for the Concorso internazionale. Just as a close-up comes rarely if ever in a Lav Diaz film, it proved difficult to put pen to paper for those sat on the press seats waiting for direct answers.
Rather than a calculated mysticism, however, his approach to questions corresponds with his ethical standpoint that refuses to impose a way of viewing and understanding. Just as his camerawork is an extension of his being, the appreciative and open Diaz demonstrated his words are also an extension of his films.
Set up as a prologue to a period of martial law that Lav Diaz recounted as 'the darkest period of Filipino history,' the film depicts a series of strange events that breaks down a barrio on an island into what one character in the film describes as a 'dead town.' Based on the director's real-life encounters, the characters are brought to life through a 'reenactment of memory' that portrays a shared experience of confusion and despair as the island and its village, the metaphor of the country, is slowly taken over by external forces of malaria and military presence.
Reclaiming the Malay past and identity, the act of filming itself became explicitly political when the actors restaged rituals and practices banished in the colonial history of the country by Catholicism and Islam alike. Although the shoot began with a script, Diaz explained it was '99% abandoned' during filming. It's hard to believe, as every gesture in the film seems to build with such captivating precision towards the crescendo that is the last hour of the 338-minute film where the wave crashes and drowns the coastline, rumoured by the villagers to be the 'wrecked face of Virgin Mary.'
Returning to Locarno after serving as Jury President last year, Lav Diaz has brought his family of actor-crewmembers along with him, who all took on multiple roles in the shoot that included prosthetic artist and dishwasher on top of acting. In response to a question on how she was directed, actress Hazel Orencio revealed Diaz treated 'the actress as a creative artist' and entrusted her to bring her own interpretations to the role. Describing the shoot to have been 'very difficult' with storms, mosquitoes and muddy roads, Diaz and his crew showed delight and bewilderment at being under the sunny sky of Locarno after such a tempestuous production. The first Filipino film ever in competition at Locarno premiers today and Lav Diaz asks us to 'embrace it as our own.'Julian Ross