Review: Independencia (3/5)

PEP Review: “Independencia” defines the price of independence
by Fidel Antonio M. Medel

Much has been said about the illustrious history of defiance of the Filipino people against foreign imperialists. A number of films had been made to commemorate the heroism of the Rizal’s and the Bonifacio’s. They have paid the price of independence with suffering and eventually with their own life. But what is independence for the common Filipino? The war is not always punctuated with mighty pens and blood-drenched bolos. The war also echoes faint cries of rebellion and unheard affliction of the oppressed. Raya Martin’s latest body of work, “Independencia”, brings us back to the time when independence is a noble but unattainable concept. Instead of portraying the forefront of the war for freedom, Martin invites us to look at the struggle from another angle.

After reaping accolades for “Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan)” and “Autohystoria”, Martin finds himself in the world’s most prestigious film festival this year. His latest film, “Independencia”, competed in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. Un Certain Regard, which literally translates to “a certain glance”, is a parallel competition to the Palme d’Or (the festival’s top plum to which Brillante Mendoza’s “Kinatay” competed for) that aims to discover young talents and feature audacious works by extending a financial grant to aid the winning film’s distribution in France. Compared to other movies being screened in the Cannes Film Festival, the competing works in the Un Certain Regard section are more experimental and avant-garde in their approach to filmmaking.

“Independencia” is mostly a visual fare with an allusive story characterized by Philippine culture and history. A strong-willed mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and his son (Sid Lucero) were compelled to leave town to escape from the sounds of war. The family’s solitary existence was cut short when the son found an abused woman (Alessandra de Rossi) unconscious in the forest. Together, they took refuge in a derelict hut and toiled to build a shelter and a home. In the jungle, they may be free citizens who could do anything they wish unlike the rest of the population who are at the mercy of the whims of the American troops. However, their freedom is but artificial. They are confined in a claustrophobic world akin to a subconscious prison. Moreover, they are enslaved by their pasts. The lush tropical forest is unwelcoming. Nature is raging with fury. And danger is imminent. The family is a portrait of freedom-loving Filipinos willing to brave the odds just to have a taste of independence. But they too paid the price.

The look and feel of “Independencia” follows the same vein as “Indio Nacional”: it aims to imitate the cinematic style of a particular period. Since “Independencia” is set during the early years of the US colonization, Martin shot the entire film in vivid black-and-white inside a studio and reconstructed a forest setting by dressing it with potted plants, painted backdrops, simulated rain, flying sparrows, and a flowing river. The idea is to create a realistic fake forest to emphasize the artificiality of the so-called independence the characters are enjoying. To further imbibe us into the era, the actors spoke in old-fashioned Tagalog. Their dialogues are teeming with superstition, sayings, and tales inherited from their ancestors. The cultural element is so thick (may be to a fault) that it is almost palpable.

Martin is not for everyone. Even cinephiles are polarized by his films. People look at his films as either revolutionary or pretentious. But for those who are seeking alternative cinema, this visionary filmmaker may pique your curiosity.

The film had its Philippine premiere during the 14th French Film Festival held at Shangri-la Plaza Mall on the 111th day of Philippine Independence.

* published in PEP


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