“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” Tests Audience Endurance
By Trixie Dauz
The film’s English title begins with the word “Lullaby,” when in fact, it is telling the nation to wake up.
“Siya [Lav Diaz] naman ang sumulat…siya naman ang nagdriek…so meron siyang mental picture of what he wants,” said Bernardo Bernardo, one of the actors in the 8-hour epic Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis. In the film, the thespian plays a mythical creature, a male “tikbalang.” Together with Cherie Gil (Female Tikbalang) and Angel Aquino (Androgynous Tikbalang), these supernatural being use their craft both to veil and unveil the truth from Oryang’s (Hazel Orencio) group.
At the start, a man leans in a table, writing a letter to his beloved with the devastating news of Rizal’s impending execution at Bagumbayan. The film itself is divided into two storylines. One is of Isagani (John Lloyd Cruz), a student heartbroken over his love Paulita Gomez, who eventually crosses path with Simoun (Piolo Pascual), the philantrophist-turned-tyrant Crisostomo Ibarra. The other is of Oryang and her quest for her husband Andres Bonifacio’s body in Bundok Buntis. Together with her companions Caesaria Belarmino (Alessandra de Rossi), Hule (Susan Africa), and Karyo (Joel Saracho), they comb the mountain for 30 days with uncertainty.
Diaz’ slow cinema might annoy moviegoers, not just because of its length, but because of the multiple instances where the audience has to wait on a character fumble his/her way through a decision-making process in 5 to 10 minutes, the process is really internal, so what happens externally is an almost frozen frame.
Larry Manda’s breathtaking cinematography complements the poesy of Diaz’ storytelling perfectly. Each frame is carefully planned and beautiful to look at, even with the somber colors. An example of this is the master shot of Oryang and her companion’s approaching a door of a lodging housecaround the 5-hour mark. Instead of simply shooting them as they wade through the grass, he artfully had the shot taken from the door’s hinges which gave a peek-a-boo effect as the door swung to and fro, obstructing and freeing the view of the audience as each second alternates. Of course, much-present is his technique of having smoke come out of a light source behind the character, creating an aura of mystery.
So, is the length of the film justified? It is, if you view it as a metaphor of our slow justice system and history fraught with fantasies and lies which just benefit the “tikbalangs” and “engkantos” in our society who play with us everyday.
The film opens today, March 26 and is screening in theater nationwide. There will be 2 intermissions during the 8-hour run.