Director: Lav Diaz
Cast: Piolo Pascual, John Lloyd Cruz, Alessandra De Rossi, Sid Lucero, Susan Africa, Hazel Orencio, Bart Gungona, Cherrie Gil, Bernardo Bernardo, Angel Aquino, Menggie Cobbarrubias, Joel Saracho, Ely Buendia, Ronnie Lazaro
In Tagalog and Spanish, with English subtitles
Last year I watched two Lav Diaz movies: Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan and Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon. The former clocked 4 hours and 10 minutes; the latter, 5 hours and 38 minutes. In both occasions, I didn't get bored or sleep at any point in the movies. His style, which may not be for everyone, is "immersive." I'm just inventing the adjective to describe my experience of seeing Lav Diaz films. Even Serafin Geronimo (Kriminal Ng Barrio Concepcion) had some scenes that were immersive, though shorter. Because I got used to seeing what seems like still pictures (before noticing that something appears into or leaves slowly from the still picture) I decided to take the 8-hour challenge of Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis. I'm glad I did take the challenge. Watching Norte and Mula, I felt lower back pain after 3 hours so that I had to leave my seat and stand at the back of the rows of seats. This time, with Hele, I didn't have back pains. No long takes lulled me to sleep. The film completely took me into its realm. I didn't want it to end.
Only a genius mind can weave parallel stories about the search for Andres Bonifacio's body and the plight of Simoun and Isagani (characters of Rizal's El Filibusterismo) during the Philippine Revolution, which was triggered by Rizal's execution by the Spaniards. The narrative masterfully interpolates dramatic and comedic situations that we don't find in the novel and creatively incorporates the myth of Bernardo Carpio and the tikbalangs into the hopeless search for Andres Bonifacio's missing body. How music and poetry are used to sustain the slow narrative flow is part of the film's genius. If only the jury of the Berlinale knew who Rizal is (or was) and read El Filibusterismo and about the Philippines Revolution, they would have better appreciation and assessment of the movie because in the movie, characters from the novel come face to face with real people during the Philippine Revolution. For example, the farmer who have confessed that he witnessed Bonifacio's murder helps Isagani transport the severely wounded Simoun to Padre Florentino's hut in seclusion. Along the way, they meet Caneo, the leader of the Colorum Society, a religious cult involved in the uprisings during the Revolution.
Every actor shines in the movie. This is one example of superb ensemble acting. Most notable scenes however are Piolo Pascual during his conversation with the Governor General (Bart Guingona), John Lloyd Cruz during his monologue on the beach (with Padre Florentino), Piolo pascual and John Lloyd Cruz reciting the Mi Ultimo Adios, Alessandro De Rossi who sustains registering guilt all over her face, Hazel Orencio in practically all scenes, Susan Africa's crawling in rice paddies, Sid Lucero's finding the 'treasure', the dying of Karyo (Joel Saracho), and the tikbalangs in every scene they're in (Bernardo Bernardo, Cherrie Gil, Angel Aquino).
There's still a lot about to say about the movie. I think I need time to process. But I'm quite sure that the political undertone of the movie is relevant in the present.
Seeing the film was one of the best spent 8-hours of my life.
Date seen: March 26, 2016 (at Cinema 4 Newport Cinemas, Resorts World Manila)