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by Jared Dec

Evolution of a Filipino Family (Philippines 2004…Lav Diaz) 625m

Oh s**t, it’s just Lino Brocka again

p Lav Diaz, Eric Tanedo, Paul Tanedo  d Lav Diaz w Lav Diaz photo Paul Tanedo, Richard C. DeGuzman edit Lav Diaz

Elryan de Vera (Raynaldo), Angie Furro (Puring), Pen Medino (Kadyo), Marife Necesito (Hilda), Ronnie Lazaro (Fernando)

Cinema has always been filled with auteur outsiders who dare to break free from the conventions that most film-making remains bound to. However, no matter how unconventional a film is, whether in arthouse circles or made on opposite sides of the globe, all films tends to have some general similarities across all times and cultural barriers. For instance, most films have a runtime between 90 and 150 minutes. Most generally since the 1970’s have been made in color outside of the most impoverished areas of the world. However, today we are going to talk about perhaps the most truly unique auteur ever to show his face in the history of world cinema. A director who so completely defies essentially every pretense one has about how a narrative film is structured that one could pick his films out of a line-up in a second even with just a vague familiarity. I am talking of course, of none other than Lav Diaz. Lav Diaz is a filmmaker that usually only the most hardcore of film buffs embrace. His films have unimaginably long runtimes and the pace of his films is so incredibly slow at times, that to the uninitiated, are almost intolerable to sit through. I myself remember my first experience with his style vividly. Allan had mailed me a box of 15 or so movies while I was in high school and included was none other than Diaz’s Melancholia on no less than 4 DVD-R’s. I was excited when I began my first viewing, eager to embrace a director Allan had so highly praised. Imagine my shock at the soporific pace, and a narrative so deeply dense with layers that one could barely remain engaged even if one was not turned off by the 30-minute shots of conversations all in black-and-white. I was totally unprepared and quit about 3 hours in, feeling I had put a good effort in. A few weeks later, I tried again and began to understand the appeal. Slowly, I began to understand in my adolescent mind, that this was a truly unique film experience, one I could get nowhere else. I became a Diaz fanatic, tracking down his films to try and understand perhaps the most unique film-maker of my lifetime.

Emerging from the Philippines in the late 90’s with some films which, to put it politely, do not bear remembering, Diaz broke through with his 2001 film Batang West Side. A well-crafted mystery that lasted just over 5 hours and has some of the most unique dialogue yet encountered by myself (who can forget when a drug dealer equates selling meth to being a Maoist revolutionary), Diaz began to slowly develop a group of rabid fans. His films remained underground and until his breakthrough success with Norte, the End of History, not a single one of his films was available on DVD anywhere save for ridiculously expensive DVD-R’s that people tried to sell on dodgy websites. Diaz though was unfazed and began making more works of unusual lengths. Over the next few years, Diaz completed this film, to date his longest and most intense, using a mix of digital, film, and archival footage. The result is a passion project in the truest sense. Diaz entered the industry with the hope of making films that reflect the true state of the Filipino people. He was inarguably more successful in this attempt than in any of his previous or following films. Evolution of a Filipino Family is a cross-section of the history of the Filipino people and manages to capture the nuances of its native culture so completely that few works in any other time and place can compare.

Like many great films, Evolution is a film of almost foolhardy ambition for the inexperienced film-maker that Diaz was at this time. The film attempts to describe the history of the Marcos regime in the Philippines from the perspective of a small farming clan in the jungle. Like all Diaz films, it is a slow boil, one could create more bubbles by holding a cigarette lighter under an Olympic swimming pool. Our protagonist is mainly Raynaldo, a boy who is found abandoned in a trash heap and raised by the farming family. Like the Philippines itself, he is initially raised well by his adoptive family but then a few hours in, completely loses his innocence by witnessing horrific war crimes and even committing murder himself. Raynaldo grows up to be exploited by a mining company, only to escape and run away with his family searching for him for the remainder of the film, in a sense becoming an elusive Godot-esque figure. All the while, we observe the Philippines’ transformation and simultaneous loss of innocence as people become addicted to radio dramas which serve as escapism from rural poverty and political instability. In the meantime, Marcos enacts martial law and murders his political rival, Benigno Aquino.

It is difficult to criticize Lav Diaz, because his films are filled with such unbridled ambition and inspiration. Even when his shoestring budgets and nonprofessional actors threaten to hold him back, Diaz makes such a valiant effort to have his voice heard that his shortcomings are all forgivable. In an industry where studios are afraid to step even one toe out of line for fear of losing money, it is refreshing to see a director who breaks all the rules of studio filmmaking so consistently and so thoroughly. Diaz is making art, and he is making it his way. Diaz is a true auteur and a true rebel, but also a philosopher whose ambition is only matched for his passion for his country and his efforts to express to the world at large the reality of life for his people. For all of the merits of his later, more mature works, this film to me represents his most impassioned moment. Everything since has been more restrained and focused on a smaller subject. Norte is arguably his most-accessible work to date which is likely why it has been more embraced and seen than any other. Evolution though is a film that tries do no less than be a definitive statement of a generation at over 11 hours (supposedly there is a print this long, the run time I list is the duration of my personal copy) with essentially no budget. Somehow it succeeds, though I can understand why Allan himself favored other Diaz films over this one. This one is less artsy, less obtuse. As a cerebral critic there is perhaps less here to figure out for oneself and it can be seen as less complex than Melancholia or Death in the Land of Encantos. Yet, the ending of this film alone remains burned in to my memory. Raynaldo’s fate is perhaps Diaz’s opinion of the fate of his country in the modern world, a fact that both haunts me and crosses my mind whenever I hear of disorder in the developing world in the news. Lav Diaz and this film in particular are a sort of motivation to not give up seeking great, unknown films. For all the ignored films that deserve to be forgotten, there are true titans of their time that I have yet to experience for myself. When films get overly formulaic for me and I grow jaded of cinema as an art form, I reflect on the unconventional and impassioned film-making of Diaz. One can argue he is overly pretentious. One can argue his films are as digestible as Ayers Rock. But none of that changes the fact after thousands of films seen, his films are truly one-of-a-kind and never forgettable in any sense of the word.

*****

Writer’s note: Hey everyone, sorry I have been gone so long. Real life caught up with me, and even though I survived a pretty intense time, finals are in two weeks so I can’t get cocky yet. Perhaps weekly Obscuros on top of the podcast was a bit too much as far as a workload goes, but I want to keep producing content as much as I can. More reviews will come certainly as time allows. I have tons of material I really want to cover. However, Trevor and I are always in search of more material to cover for both the podcast and these Obscuro reviews. However, I mentioned in one of my reviews that I was seeking a very rare film that had been a holy grail for some time and lo and behold, someone contacted me and sent it. From now on, I will be listing five films we are seeking that you can drop a line to us if you have the film and want to share it. As I mentioned we have plenty of content but there are always obscurities that if we have access to earlier, mean we can cover that director earlier or can get mentioned in an Obscuro earlier. If you don’t have any of these five films and/or you have another film or director you think we should cover in some way, feel free to shoot me an email anyway and we can look into it and will watch movies if you send them via cloud transfer or whatever. Remember though, if we don’t have every film by a director we will usually hold off covering them. Regardless thank you all for your positive comments i speak for both Trevor and myself when I say we will really appreciate it.

The Five Most Wanted (watch the comments, I will comment if one of these gets sent in):

-Blood Is Dry (Yoshida ) one of two Yoshidas we are missing

-He Fengming (Wang)

-Hometown (Mizoguchi)

-Kisapmata (DeLeon)

-A Promise (Yoshida) the other one


If you have and want to share, send an email to: ikiruugetsu@gmail.com

Thanks again for reading and/or listening! More content is coming, we promise.

 

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by Jared Dec

Japan 1933 95m

d Tomu Uchida w Toshihiko Takeda, Eizo Yamauchi photo Soichi Aisaka art Hiroshi Mizutani

Eiji Nakano (Tetsuo Tomioka), Isamu Kosuji (Itami), Taisuke Matsumoto (Miyabe Keikan), Soji Ubukato (Officer Hasimoto), Kenji Asada (Judiciary Chief), Shizuko Mori (Tazuko), Tamako Katsura (Emiko), Isao Kitaoka (Shinchi), Matsuko Miho (Tamiko), Hirotoshi Murata (Yamamura)

We were young then

I am sure every critic in any art medium can be argued to have one artist they hold as being the most underrated they have ever encountered. Allan obviously felt this way about Yoshida and went out of his way to promote his work. Ebert argued strongly for Herzog, and so on. While I don’t think Uchida is anywhere as talented as either of those great directors, if I had to pick one unknown director I relentlessly pursue any film they made that can be found, it would be Uchida. The fact alone that this series has had less than 10 entries and already I am making a second one about a film by Uchida is probably indication enough that I want to promote his work.  Uchida is not a master on the scale of the big four of Japanese cinema, but there is no conceivable reason to me that none of his films are available on DVD in the Western world save a few of his samurai films. It is hard to think of any directors who are more unfairly neglected  in world cinema. Uchida was a sort of an early Japanese Orson Welles who had great artistic vision but often fought with a repressive studio system. The result of Uchida’s rebellious nature is that his films manage to deal with much deeper social themes than almost any other Japanese films of his era. I feel that his pre-war material is his most bold and therefore most interesting, while his postwar output is somewhat more neutered. That all being said, Policeman has been one of my most coveted films for some time along with Uchida’s The Mad Fox (if you have it, please email me), and my first viewing after such a long period of anticipation surely clouded my judgement somewhat as to its quality. However, for what it’s worth, Policeman lived up to its hype for me. (more…)

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by Jared Dec and Trevor Nigg

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new podcast to be posted on Wonders, “Complete Filmography Breakdown”. “The Complte Filmography Breakdown” will involve myself and long-time friend and collaborator Trevor Nigg taking a key director’s filmography and seeing it in its entirety. The major, the minor, and everything in between. The idea is to make a complete study of an auteur’s work and attempt to analyze every aspect of their vision. This series is not replacing my weekly writings for The Fish Obscuro, and I will continue to write articles for it on a weekly basis. We will try to keep episodes between 30 minutes and an hour in length, and will attempt to post them on a biweekly basis, in order to give us enough time to see all the films in question. Each episode will generally cover a maximum of 15 films so longer filmographies such as Bergman’s or Hitchcock’s will have to be split across multiple episodes. The goal with this series is to give more context to the works of filmmakers that are respected and perhaps to bring attention to the higher quality works they made that have fallen through the cracks of time. Below are the links to the first two episodes of the series on Soundcloud. The first is more of an introduction to give background on where Trevor and I are coming from with this series in terms of film-viewing experiences and personal biases. Feel free to skip it if you want to get straight into analysis. The second episode is where we cover the works of Andrei Tarkovsky including his seven major features, all of his student films, and his work for television, Voyage in Time. Forgive the poor mic quality, we had one mic for this set-up, a problem which will be corrected in time for the next episode which will be on the works of Kieslowski. As always feedback is appreciated so if you have issues such as us talking too fast or audio issues, let us know. We are also open to suggestions for directors to cover. We hope you enjoy this series!

Episode 0: The Introduction – https://soundcloud.com/trevor-nigg/the-completionist-episode-0-the-intro

Episode 1: Andrei Tarkovsky – https://soundcloud.com/trevor-nigg/the-completist-episode-1-tarkovsky

 

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by Jared Dec

When the Tenth Month Comes – Dang Nhat Minh

Vietnam 1984 95m

d Dang Nhat Minh w Dang Nhat Minh p Lan Nguyen

Van Le, Luu Viet Bao Dang, Phu Cuong Lai, Huu Muoi Nguyen, Minh Vuong Nguyen, Le Phong Trinh

When the tenth month comes, rice ripens in five-ton fields…

When one thinks of Southeast Asian cinema prior to the 1990’s, few can probably name more than a few films they have seen. Vietnamese cinema largely goes unmentioned full stop aside from the occasional nod to Tran Anh Hung’s European-influenced films from the 90’s. To me, perhaps one of the largest omissions in Allan’s massive tome was the lack of a single Vietnamese film. When one thinks of Vietnam in cinema, most will think of the blockbuster US films about the conflict there such as Apocalypse Now or Platoon. In fact, my interest in Vietnamese cinema was born from reading Roger Ebert’s Great Movies review of Apocalypse Now in middle school and a line standing out to me where Ebert claimed to have heard that Vietnamese films made in the Vietnam War era never referred to the Americans as Americans but rather simply “the enemy”. At the time, I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing Vietnamese films from that era for myself, though finding such films with English subtitles remains an erstwhile difficult process. I have seen enough to know Ebert’s source was wrong, Dat Kho (1973) in particular refers to Americans by name many times. However, the fact that no one corrected Ebert on this point, is proof enough that early Vietnamese cinema remains a great uncharted ocean for most film buffs. Francis Ford Coppola famously claimed Apocalypse Now was more than a movie about Vietnam, it was Vietnam. I will not dispute the greatness of his film, but perhaps the Vietnamese themselves are more qualified to make a movie about Vietnam than Coppola.

When the Tenth Month Comes is a rare thing for an early Vietnamese film. For one thing, the film is a tender romantic drama about the Vietnam War. Unlike the aforementioned Dat Kho or a number of other contemporary Vietnamese films of the era that I have seen (some of which are so obscure they aren’t on imdb), Tenth Month is not propaganda in really any way. In fact, the film is more of a study of Vietnam as a society and as a culture rather than an attack on imperialism. Perhaps that is why this film is usually the oldest Vietnamese film that gets mentioned by Vietnamese film buffs when the topic of what the greatest Vietnamese films are is mentioned. Duyen is a young actress in the North Vietnamese countryside whose husband, Tran, is killed in the Vietnam War. Duyen wishes to hide the truth of his death from his family, which is strange conceptually, but this trope appears in several Vietnamese films of the era so perhaps there is a cultural element I am missing. In order to maintain the facade, Duyen asks a schoolteacher who inadvertently becomes aware of her secret to write letters to her in-laws posing as her husband. What follows is Duyen’s internal struggles to reconcile her lack of honesty, her continued loyalty to her husband, and her growing feelings for the schoolteacher. (more…)

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by Jared Dec

Song of the Horse (1971?, Akira Kurosawa)

p Akira Kurosawa d Akira Kurosawa w akira kurosawa m ??? e ???

Hiroyuki Kawase (narrator), Noboru Mitami (narrator)

Everyone reading this likely knows who Akira Kurosawa is. Whether you prefer Ozu or Mizoguchi is irrelevant in the face of the reality that no other Japanese director would have gotten anywhere near the attention in the West they have were it not for Akira Kurosawa opening the world’s eyes to the cinema of the East. It is hard to argue that any other figure in Japanese cinema or even Asian cinema as a whole is as important from an objective perspective. I may be preaching to the choir here, but his importance needs to be established before we discuss why this film is so bafflingly unknown anywhere in the world. Most normal film buffs will say Kurosawa made 30 films and since the release of 1993’s Madadayo, they would be correct in saying 30 of Kurosawa’s films were available anywhere in the world. That does not mean however that Kurosawa only made 30 films. There are two co-productions he was involved with that remain unavailable though I am ignoring those. No I am here to tell you about the mysterious 31st film, Song of the Horse, which can now finally be seen after over four decades of complete obscurity.

1970 was a rough year for Kurosawa, Dodes’ka-den was a monumental flop that essentially bankrupted everyone who had bet on Kurosawa making a comeback. The Japanese film industry itself was in near collapse, and there was no funding for Kurosawa to make another big-budget epic like the ones he was so famous for. Out of options and strapped for cash, Kurosawa allegedly took the advice of friend and contemporary Shohei Imamura and attempted to make a low-budget TV documentary. The logic was low budget meant low risk and Kurosawa would likely make a profit that would prove to investors once again that he was a capable filmmaker at least in some aspect. Now is when the story gets hazy. The few places with information on this film claim that Song of the Horse premiered on Japanese TV in August of 1970. However, the one single other review of this film that I have found claims the horse races involved occured in June of 1971 making a 1970 release date impossible. This confusion and the lack of any other information to the contrary is why I have included a “?” next to the year. Regardless of when the film was released, it was likely not even the moderate success that Kurosawa hoped for, with the film allegedly never being shown anywhere again after the premiere. Kurosawa would attempt suicide in late 1971, and though he survived, it is a strange thought that in an alternate universe, Song of the Horse would have been the last film Kurosawa ever directed.

(more…)

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by Jared Dec

Full disclosure, one reason I am reviewing this film is because Allan mentioned it once as a film that might have made it into the book if he had access to a copy with English subtitles. I have some basic knowledge of Portuguese, and between that, Google translate, a dictionary, and some help from a fellow Wonders denizen, I have managed to do a good enough translation that one can follow the plot of the film. The process took about 5 hours over the course of two days and I am in no way fluent in or a native speaker of Portuguese, so the translation is a bit iffy all-around. However, I will be including my attempted subtitles with this review and a link to the film on youtube if you want to see a film that has been rarely seen outside its native country. I beseech all cinema buffs who are also speakers of multiple languages to try translating films that have yet to be translated as it is only through the effort of often unpaid translations (much like my own here) that we discover the true breadth of cinema outside the English-speaking world. Preaching over, now onto the review.

Maria do Mar – José Leitão de Barros

(Portugal 1930 77m)

p José Leitão de Barros d José Leitão de Barros w José Leitão de Barros, António Lopes Ribeiro ph Manuel Luís Vieira, Salazar Dinis ed José Leitão de Barros int Norberto Lopes

Rosa Maria (Maria do Mar), Oliveira Martins (Manuel), Adelina Abranches (Aunt Aurélia, Ihlda), Alves da Cunha (Captain Falacha), Perpétua dos Santos (Falacha’s wife), Horta e Costa (The “ Turkey”), António Duarte (Lacraio), Maria Leo (Maria’s friend), Mário Duarte (The doctor), Celestino Pedroso (The colonel), Rafael Alves (The official)

 

In the swirls of the bay…

 

José Leitão de Barros is not a name you will find in many film histories. In fact, aside from works made after the end of the Fascist regime in 1974, one can scarcely find mention anywhere of the cinema of Portugal. For the duration of the Fascist regime (1933-1974), essentially all Portuguese films were forced to become in some way mouthpieces for the regime and as a result few are remembered. However there was a brief period before the Fascist regime when José Leitão de Barros defined the cinema of his native country as much as Eisenstein and Pudvokin defined Soviet cinema of the same time. Not only did Leitão de Barros direct Portugal’s first sound film A Severa (1931), but the year prior he made what many Portuguese cineastes consider the first true masterpiece of Portuguese cinema, Maria do Mar (1930). (more…)

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by Jared Dec

Himala (Philippines 1982…Ishmael Bernal) 124m

DVD 2 (unrestored only), 3 (2012 restoration, Philippines only)

Aka: Miracle

Do you believe?

The Philippines is not one of the foremost countries for cinema. In fact, largely only Lino Brocka and more recently, Lav Diaz are discussed when the topic comes up for this much-troubled country’s films. In my opinion however, the Philippines is one of the most underrated countries for film. Aside from a mere handful of films, most of the films described as major works by Filippino cineastes are unavailable on DVD, and so I feel it is my duty here to give some exposure to perhaps the greatest Filippino film of them all. Himala is not an easy film, a deep, brooding meditation on the nature of faith and fraud that is deeply rooted in the Philippines’ history of Catholicism and traditional superstition. Those however who are willing to brave some cultural barriers and dig through this film’s many layers will find a masterpiece that more than earns its place in the ever-growing canon.

Elsa, is a young, unmarried woman who was abandoned in her childhood but adopted by a poor woman. Elsa has few work prospects, even fewer marriage prospects, and little hope for her future. She seems to be doomed to a life as an old maid in a poor, rural village, when suddenly she claims to have seen the Virgin Mary herself and begins preaching her message and healing the sick. Many are skeptical at first, but soon the whole area becomes caught up in a feverish bought of religiousness and hailing Elsa as a prophet. However with her claimed divine powers comes a plethora of problems. The local Catholic church doubts her claims of miracles, brothels open up in the town to service the many tourists, crime skyrockets in the small town, and perhaps most devastating of all, people begin putting all their faith in her miracles which starts to have horrifying consequences. Elsa is forced to confront these consequences while many of her followers reveal their true fickle nature, leading to a conclusion that is equal parts brilliant and unpleasant. (more…)

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