by Allan Fish
(Philippines 2011 360m) not on DVD
Aka. Siglo ng pagluluawl
Love in the house
p Lav Diaz, Ricky Gallardo d/w Lav Diaz ph Lav Diaz ed Lav Diaz m Lav Diaz art Perry Dizon, Dante Perez, Hazel Orencio
Angel Aquino (Sister Angela), Perry Dizon (Homer), Roeder Camanag (photographer), Joel Torre (Father Tiburcio), Betty Uy-Regala (poet), Bart Guingona (criminal), Soliman Cruz (philosopher), Hazel Orencio (virgin), Angeli Bayani (Anna), Modesta, Dante Perez,
It had been three years since Melancholia turned audiences’ heads inside out. In the time between that film’s unveiling Lars Von Trier had loosed his own Melancholia on the world, but not even the forbidding blue planet and sense of Wagnerian doom of that film erased memories of Diaz’s earlier like-titled piece. The prospect of Century of Birthing was something to be impatient for, while knowing it would be no stroll in the park.
Dizon plays Homer, a filmmaker who is having problems finishing his latest opus, Women of the Wind. While he plays, edits and mixes footage on his laptop, we get to see portions of the story, dealing with a nun who has recently given up her vows to get to know about being a woman and picks up a criminal in order to have sex with him. This tale is then woven within another story, about a religious cult lead by the stern Father Tiburcio, who gathers virgins and one male follower around him to prepare them for being the only ones fit to enter heaven. Meanwhile a young photographer gets himself an interview with the male member of the group and tries to infiltrate the community.
For much of the film it is difficult to ascertain how much of this story is in the director’s head and how much it’s a parallel plot just waiting to meet the director himself at some as yet to be decided crossroads. In the meantime Homer spends time with a female poet friend whose pretensions are greater even than his, gives an interview where he explains his philosophy on the cinema, and meets an old girlfriend who, it transpires, has performed an abortion on herself and caused an internal haemorrhage.
It’s been called by various critics a variation of 8½, and yet there are some distinct differences which expose a paradox. In 8½ Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido was, to all intents and purposes, Fellini’s vision of his own alter ego. He was struggling to get his film made, but not necessarily for the same reasons as Homer. It’s also difficult to see Homer as a representation of Diaz himself when Diaz’s philosophy at times seems so diametrically apposite to Homer’s (add the fact that Diaz is prolific in his personal vision in a way not seen since Fassbinder and Homer is anything but).
How then does one reconcile this with the fact that the film Homer is fussing over in such a way as to make one doubt he ever wants to finish it is actually Diaz’s next film, the self-same titled Woman of the Wind. The simple answer is that one can’t, leaving us instead to take in the visuals, the extraordinary vision and the sense of a palpable void at the centre of the protagonists’ lives. Sister Angela needs a man to sleep with her to feel like a woman; the criminal needs her to forget the forced homosexual assaults in prison; the young girls at Father Tubercio’s sanctuary will take any belief if it’s one they can make themselves believe answers their questions.
Amongst startling images of genital mutilation and a throat cutting, there’s the most startling scene of all, Homer’s interview in which he warns that any stance taken is seen as pretentious; whether incendiary, revolutionary, radical, proud, modest, cool, out of fashion, left-wing, right-wing, zen, born-again-Christian or simple artist. “We will remember the world because of cinema, we can recreate or re-enact our memories…cinema will go back to the past, the present and the future, now!” It plays like Isou’s Letterist manifesto from Traite de Bave et d’éternité acted out as a deleted scene from Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. And as we see stills of oxen hung out in a dark room, we are transported back to Diaz’s own Death in the Land of Encantos before Homer goes off on his final journey away from the stifling city. Brace yourself, you may find it pretentious, but this cinema truly is being.