FROM WHAT IS BEFORE
Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon
Directed by Lav Diaz
Golden Leopard, 2014 Locarno International Film Festival
Grand Prize, 2014 World Premieres Film Festival
Official Selection, 2014 Toronto International Film Festival
Darkness looms over a coastal Filipino town. Some call it a curse. Some smell strong-armed political corruption. For the inhabitants – a disabled healer, her opportunistic sister, a watching priest, a winemaker, a farmer, a door-to-door salesman – it’s the end of an era that feels like the end of days. Houses combust into flames, cattle are found slaughtered. Meanwhile, soldiers march into town uninvited. Amidst the foreboding, secrets about ancestry are revealed, deep-seated suspicions are investigated, and the seeds for martial law are strewn over an increasingly barren village.
Tightly winding together long blocks of heavy but riveting narrative, director Lav Diaz casts a mean spell that uses every moment of its majestic 338 minutes. Regional history rarely feels this voluminous onscreen, let alone with the intricacy of entrenched superstition, local power-struggle, and national tyranny wedded to every surface. The domineering presence of Ferdinand Marcos is seen on people’s walls, but felt through the local economics and in its inverse: the courage of resistance, however futile.
The grandest presence though is the land, especially where hills meet shore, waves crashing against jagged, prehistoric boulders carving out the grey sky. Diaz’s grandeur has sharp edges which demand caution and close observation. But it’s also generous in its compassion and especially in its offering of time, one of the great subjects of Diaz’s cinema. As an epoch crumbles, we find ourselves gifted hours of feeling which become centuries of uncurtailable history. Up to its final gasp, FROM WHAT IS BEFORE seeks nothing less than to mark the birth of the modern Filipino nation. –Brian Hu
Batang West Side (2001)
Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012)
Norte, the End of History (2013)
Cast: Perry Dizon, Roeder Camanag, Hazel Orencio, Angelina Kanapi