Anatomy of a Filipino Village
Based on real life characters and events, some experienced by director Lav Diaz himself, Mula sa kung ano ang noon(From What Is Before), the follow-up to the widely acclaimed Norte, the End of History, finds the director back in black and white (gorgeous 4K), and returning to the remote Filipino countryside. This, the first Filipino film to compete in Locarno, takes up Diaz’s most crucial theme: the sorrowful struggle of the country, here centralized into one isolated, deluged barrio, its rituals, and the impoverished inhabitants, in the two years leading up to the proclamation of martial law by Marcos in 1972. Strange events abound in this village, riddled by sin, whose residents include a crippled faith healer, Joselina, and Itang, her put-upon sister; Tony, a wine seller; Sito, a cattle tender who harbors a secret regarding his adopted son, Hakob; Heding, a newly arrived door-to-door saleswoman… But the barrio itself, as it becomes a town of the dead, is the main character. With a Biblical scope, Mula sa kung ano ang noonexamines how an individual and collective psyche responds to extreme and mysterious changes in social and physical environment.
In elaborating an anti-Hollywood and mainstream Filipino film industry aesthetic, Diaz often lets life flow, and refuses to allow the cinema be subordinated to the action of the characters. Despite his elaboration of a unique approach to slow cinema, Diaz’s work continues to raise hackles, perhaps due to the commitment required on the part of the viewer. (Yet at only 338 minutes Mula sa kung ano ang noon is far from Diaz’s longest film, and offers a good entry point into his Tarkovsky-influenced filmmaking.) But few artists have been able to produce so much interesting (and still underseen) work in the past decade, acting in the service of cultural history, a national history of accumulating tragedies, and expanding the limits of cinema in the digital era.
The story revolves around the lives of poor villagers in one remote region of the Philippines before Martial Law was declared by dictator Marcos. Loosely based on real events and characters, the film examines how an individual and collective psyche responds to extreme and mysterious changes in social and physical environment.