Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino

‘Ebolusyon’ May Trigger a Revolution

By Lito Zulueta
Philippine Daily Inquirer

JUST to set the record straight: "Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino" took 11, not 10, years to make."

IN "EBOLUSYON ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino," Raynaldo (Elryan De Vera) is rescued as an infant from abandonment by a mentally unhinged woman, Hilda (Marife Necisito). She takes him back to her family in the countryside, where he grows up to witness and suffer the lot of Filipino farmers: enslavement to the land, getting caught in the crossfire of political conflicts and severe displacement. He flees and joins a mining family in the high lands. In his new world, he discovers that same plaintive reality of loss, suffering and dislodgement.

Thus, the thread that connects "Ebolusyon" from Lav Diaz's previous film, "Batang West Side," is dislocation and bereavement of place. If the Pinoy cop in America is fleeing his twisted past as a torturer in "West Side," Raynaldo represents the victim, the other end of the torture process. The boy rescued from the dumps by a deranged woman represents the derangement inflicted by the warped reality of the Philippines. He won't be like Jacob sold by his brothers and later exalted in Egypt. When Raynaldo returns to his original foster family toward the end of the movie, he comes full circle. We know his lot has not vastly changed; in fact, his foster sisters bring aid to the communist underground on the sly, just like when he was a boy, his foster uncle (Pen Medina) stole guns from the military and sold them to the communists. But Raynaldo knows there will be no surprises. He will not come unhinged like his beloved Hilda who rescued him from the garbage dump when he was a baby. He will abide by the reality.

Torment and agony

"Ebolusyon" is a powerful movie. Nominated for best picture in the 28th Gawad Urian of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, it is a movie that makes us abide by the torment and agony that is Philippine history in the last 30 years. It relives the darkness of martial law, the dilemmas of the Aquino transition and the bedlam that constitutes the present. The movie explains much of the horror, the better for the viewer to confront it.

Of course, some will say that what connects "Ebolusyon" to "West Side" is its swollen, distended limits. While "West Side" is five hours, "Ebolusyon" lasts 10 hours, approximating roughly the time it took for Diaz to finish it-more than nine years.

Thus, the most distinctive aspect of "Ebolusyon" is also the most problematic-its chronological conceit. How could an important movie that is a veritable contemporary Philippine epic be so liberal with its narrative length that it risks losing the audience it seeks to affect and influence?

The answer is that there's so much liberality and comprehensiveness in the vision of Lav Diaz, that the audience can take the calculated risk of sitting through "Ebolusyon," imbibing its spirit that meanders through the alleys and byways of Philippine history, a tortuous path that, to critics of the film, may be reflected in the movie's rather tortuous length.

But "Ebolusyon" is too significant to be dismissed as a movie that takes its title too literally. It is an important contribution to world cinema, signaling both a refusal to be confined to the two-hour limit of commercial cinema and an embrace of the artistic potentials of digital cinema, particularly digital's capacity to release the artist from the servitude and conventions of the studio system.

The latter is perhaps the other distinctive aspect of "Ebolusyon"-the adamant, unabashed adoption of digital cinema, its limits and possibilities. No wonder, Diaz could hardly care about time. Digital knows no time; it just goes on and on. It is a technological stream of consciousness if there was one. It democratizes image-recording. And you know what St. Thomas Aquinas says about democracy: it tends toward anarchy.

It's a technology, too, that creates its audience. Part of the reason Diaz's work is not your ordinary two-hour movie is that it is not one: it hasn't been transferred on celluloid, unlike, for example, Laurice Guillen's "Santa Santita," which was shot on video but transferred on film for commercial release. "Ebolusyon" is therefore not meant to be shown in theaters. It's meant to be seen in video houses, on a more intimate setting perhaps, in episodic fashion probably, like the soap opera that is a funny metaphor that runs through the movie.

No rush

"Ebolusyon" is clearly not for movie marathoners. It is a movie that is not to be seen in a rush. Doing so may make one miss its other conceits. The subplot on the conspiracy to assassinate the filmmaker Lino Brocka for agitating the farmers in the land reform question is one delicious hyperbole. Obviously this is Lav Diaz's tribute to the power of cinema. Or is he lamenting that Brocka did not live long enough to trigger the revolution?

To be sure, some of the film's expansive peregrinations may reach a dead end, especially the rather distended episode of Kadyo (Pen Medina) when he leaves prison: after failing to integrate back to society, he returns to a life of crime and becomes a hired killer, but balks at the prospect of killing Brocka. The conspiracy turns against him, and as he makes his final bloody crawl to his death, we know he has been making the final gasp at life all along. He has been a living dead even without the fatal dagger wound. There's no need to belabor that.

There's also the historical lapse. After Kadyo informs us that he received word about the whereabouts of Raynaldo in 1988, we see him wandering into the Mendiola massacre, which took place in January 1987.

But never mind. "Ebolusyon" is an artistic rarity. A film like this only comes once in 10 years.

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