Much has been said about the illustrious history of defiance of the Filipinopeople against foreign imperialists. A number of films have been made tocommemorate the heroism of valiant Pinoys such as Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio. They have paid theprice of independence with suffering and eventually with their own life.
Butwhat is independence for the common Filipino? The war is not always punctuatedwith mighty pens and blood-drenched bolos. The war also echoes faint cries ofrebellion and unheard affliction of the oppressed. Raya Martin's latest body ofwork, Independencia, brings us back to the time when independence is a noblebut unattainable concept. Instead of portraying the forefront of the war forfreedom, Direk Raya invites us to look at the struggle from another angle.
After reaping accolades for Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional (OAng Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) and Autohystoria, Raya findshimself in the world's most prestigious film festival this year. His latestfilm, Independencia, competed in the Un Certain Regard section of the CannesFilm Festival.
Un Certain Regard, which literally translates to "a certainglance", is a parallel competition to the Palme d'Or (the festival's top plum) that aims to discover youngtalents and feature audacious works by extending a financial grant to aid thewinning film's distribution in France. Compared to other movies being screenedin the Cannes Film Festival, the competing works in the Un Certain Regardsection are more experimental and avant-garde in their approach tofilmmaking.
Independencia offers mostly visual fare with an allusive story characterizedby Philippine culture and history. A strong-willed mother (TetchieAgbayani) and her son (Sid Lucero) were compelled to leave town to escape fromthe sounds of war.
The family's solitary existence was cut short when the sonfound an abused woman (Alessandra de Rossi) unconscious in the forest.Together, they took refuge in a derelict hut and toiled to build a shelter anda home. In the jungle, they may be free citizens who could do anything theywish unlike the rest of the population who are at the mercy of the whims of theAmerican troops. However, their freedom is but artificial. They are confined ina claustrophobic world akin to a subconscious prison. Moreover, they areenslaved by their past. The lush tropical forest is unwelcoming. Nature israging with fury. And danger is imminent. The family is a portrait offreedom-loving Filipinos willing to brave the odds just to have a taste ofindependence. But they too paid the price.
The look and feel of Independencia follows the same vein as IndioNacional: it aims to imitate the cinematic style of a particular period. Since Independencia is set during the early years of the US colonization, Direk Raya shot the entire film in vivid black-and-white inside a studio and reconstructeda forest setting by dressing it with potted plants, painted backdrops,simulated rain, flying sparrows, and a flowing river.
The idea is to create arealistic-looking forest to emphasize the artificiality of the so-calledindependence the characters are enjoying. To further imbibe us into the era,the actors spoke in old-fashioned Tagalog. Their dialogues are teeming withsuperstition, sayings, and tales inherited from their ancestors. The culturalelement is so thick (may be to a fault) that it is almost palpable.
Direk Raya's style is not for everyone. Even cinephiles are polarized by his films.People look at his films as either revolutionary or pretentious. But for thosewho are seeking alternative cinema, this visionary filmmaker may pique yourcuriosity.
Independencia had its Philippine premiere during the 14th French Film Festivalheld at Shangri-la Plaza Mall on the 111th day of Philippine Independence.
It will be screened during the 5th edition of Cinemalaya at the Cultural Center of the Philippines this July. It will also have a limited screening schedules this August.