Review by Louie Baharom
Film: ‘Ang Panahon ng Halimaw’
Year Released: 2018
Director: Lav Diaz
A master of slow cinema, and one of the best Filipino filmmakers working today, Lav Diaz has always been that one auteur whose works leave a lasting mark on his viewers. Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, his latest picture, does pretty much the same, and sometimes even in ways that he hasn’t done before. Horrifyingly, its title signifies an evil presence lurking about in our reality today, and it further raises its relevance as a significant piece of modern Philippine cinema.
Visiting the “Then” in the “Now”
Ang Panahon ng Halimaw knows for a fact that everything that happens in it cannot be erased in the history books. A voice opens up the film, and takes us to the Martial Law era, and we are left naked to face ghosts of the past that still haunt the present state of our nation. Alarmingly, sitting in the theater, this makes us see the film in the context of what’s happening today, and with that, we are treated more as victims than mere viewers. This all makes it a subversive experience far more subversive than Diaz’s past films. Sneakily, Lav sees this as a “horror” picture that makes us tremble just as we witness the torturing of our people, that apparently, are made to look like real people. In this story, there are heroes emerging from the soil, but they are put down by monsters led by their own. Humanity is seen in glimpses from several characters, but even it tends to suffer from desperation even if it does have a fighting soul. At some point, one can even sense the near loss of finality in its story, almost as if it’s verifying the truth behind the old adage “history repeats itself”. As such, it being set in the past, triggers agonizing memories of the era it’s set in, showing the immense trauma induced in its victims in all of its somber seriousness. As a film, it isn’t all-out political per se, and it’s less rebellious than it actually is. It isn’t a cry for help either, but more of an ode to a a dark time in the Philippines’ past. Diaz, as the film’s writer, makes this all apparent with him being more literal than figurative in his storytelling, but this doesn’t make its meaning any less profound nor alarming.
Lav, the Poet
Poetry is essentially what makes this film so efficient in conveying its message, and it becomes so for its fiery, passionate delivery ignited with lyricism. Songs are sung, but they are far from your ordinary musical numbers. There are no instruments played to be heard in the background, only voices that once heard, send us into a state of realization. Diaz, ever the poet that he has always been, complements this with his signature cinematography that crosses the borders its conventionalism with it having an eye fully controlled by him, the filmmaker. Treating the camera as his paintbrush, and his surroundings as his canvas, he composes imagery that feel like paintings than just stills. Storytelling and structure are two of the things that Diaz is so eloquent in – so much so that he doesn’t conform to its traditional ways, and in turn, he always comes up with haunting cinematic poetry every now and then. In this film, his recitation of it, either through stills or through song, sometimes repeatedly, borders much more on catharsis than artistic expression.
The Artist and His Audience
Lav Diaz has always been one to challenge his audience to watch a movie. His penchant for slowness and stillness has proved to be an indicator of his brilliance seeing that he utilizes both elements to his filmmaking with full mastery, and it couldn’t even be questioned. That is why it’s always vital that we know how to watch a movie, and in ways that vary depending on the film we sit through. Diaz loves to show his audience that his films aren’t merely something to sit through, but rather a work of art to stare at for a long period of time, and analyze in the process. Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, however, differs in that it tends to be a little less like that. Where his previous films had the audience doing a voluntary effort by seeing what he has made according to their own will, this latest picture of his is what he sees as a collaborative effort between him, the artist, and us, the audience. This is Diaz simply asking us that we should feel something while watching this because it does, and not because it begs us to. More so, this is him demanding us that we devote all of our time and attention to his art, and see it through his own eyes as opposed to construing it on our own. Asking us to do so, he makes this film more accessible by making it a musical unlike any other, and like always, the scale is huge, and what it encompasses is wide, but the picture to be seen is clearer than ever.
Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is Lav Diaz at perhaps, his most vulnerable and most urgent as he allows his art to be more open to the people now than it was before. In it, we not only see a filmmaker finding the urge to paint the truth of his nation, but rather, a member of this nation troubled by its history.
Ang Panahon ng Halimaw opens May 30 in select Ayala Malls Cinemas. Rated R-13 by the MTRCB. Check sureseats.com for screening schedules.