Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery)
Halfway through the eight-hour-long A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, it is hard to distinguish between what has been witnessed onscreen and what has been dreamt of in a half-lucid state. The film incites a magical dream state in which the audience bounces between their dreams and the film, each affecting the other. Director Lav Diaz tackles the 1896 Philipino revolution, focusing on the martyrs at the centre of the cause and their struggles fighting the Spanish colonizers from the shadows of the jungle. Adopting a square format and black-and-white cinematography allows Diaz to establish an antiquated aesthetic as a backdrop for his characters to occupy.
The first act centres on Isagani (John Lloyd Cruz), a tortured poet and student who allows himself to be misled by the pied piper and revolutionary Simoun (Piolo Pascual), who revels in the violence he believes is key to liberation. History is conveyed through poetic monologues and rebel ballads delivered to a fixed camera which connect the real historical struggle with the battles in Manilla and the metaphysical struggle of the rebel leaders who dwell in the dreamland of the jungle.
With its challenging running time, one would expect to call this an epic, but as most of the revolution either happens off-camera or is mediated through intellectual discourse, Diaz has reduced history to singular, subjective experiences. The actors all perform with theatrical fervor, creating characters that are romantic interpretations of historical figures instead of realistic depictions.
The second act is fleshed out with more narrative detail, as real life leader Gregoria De Jesus (Hazel Orencio) is on the hunt in the mountains to pursue her brother in arms, kidnapped by a rival rebel group. Diaz begins to let loose as the film meanders into the mythical with the arrival of ethereal phantoms offering a pleasant escape from the constant debating and rhetoric.
Lacking the warmth and humour of his previous epics, A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery is aloof when it could be urgent, static when it could be sprawling. Diaz has built a bold experiment with moments of absolute splendour, but also too often falls under its own ambitious, self-indulgent weight.
Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) does not yet have a UK release date.
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