His short films and one feature (Todo Todo Teros) all made for not more than the cost of a few mini-DV tapes and the opportunity cost of accepting other work (he runs a small editing house) are heartbreaking works. They combine found and organized footage with text in a way that hasn't been seen before in Philippine cinema. I go to Torres's films for what I can learn from them. But I learn nothing a proper academic setting would find valuable, nothing of history, politics, or economics; not even anything about contemporary Philippine cinema. I learn something much, much more valuable to me in my life: I learn about the inner working of the heart. Torres's films, the ideas behind them, the struggle to make them, teach me something I need to learn: humility, benevolence. They illustrate the beauty found in self-effacement, in touching your pain, admitting your faults, and at the same time learning to sacrifice face in the name of trust, in the name of solidarity with humanity and sharing everything that is close to you with the world in the hope that it will understand and sympathize with you as much as you are trying your hardest to understand and sympathize with it. Ultimately, they are tone poems, films that both espouse and offer compassion.
Lav Diaz's works stand so off tangent that Evolution of a Filipino Family has had only six screenings in the Philippines. His Heremias, a labor of love and the first half of the last part of his Philippine trilogy, following Evolution and Batang West Side, was written, directed, produced, and edited by Diaz himself. The astonishing thing about his Philippine trilogy is how, while the films are radical in themselves, they're also all so different in time, space, and aesthetic. The five-hour West Side, about the Filipino experience abroad, is a 35mm color work shot and set in contemporary New Jersey. The 11-hour Evolution, a mix of 16mm and various forms of digital, is in black-and-white and is set just before, during, and after the martial law period in the Philippines. Mixing scenes of urban and rural life, it is astonishingly sophisticated in its use of both mise-en-scène and (intellectual) montage, a remarkable feat given its duration. The nine-hour Heremias, shot entirely on digital, is set in the present-day rural Philippines. It is the only film in the trilogy that is told linearly and focuses on a single character. This trilogy, when completed, should tower over contemporary Philippine cinema, over aspiring independent filmmakers as a paradigm of what it means to be uncompromising.
The new Philippine filmmaker does not fear experimentation but embraces it, knowing that, as Brakhage declared, film or perhaps better put, cinema is still something ... becoming. While aboveground the death of Philippine cinema (or the industry) is proclaimed, in the deep underground lie the real artists, replenishing the soil with seeds of a new cinema. *
Alexis A. Tioseco is editor in chief at Criticine. A longer version of this piece can be found at www.criticine.com.
For Tioseco's top five Southeast Asian features, short works, and older films seen for the first time, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.