One of the most adventurous filmmakers to emerge from the Philippines in decades, Lav Diaz is, in many ways, the spiritual father of what some have called the Filipino New Wave, a group of filmmakers who have adopted digital technology to create an intimate and raw style. At the same time, he stands separate from them, often working on an epic scale and addressing historical shifts in Philippine society. (See his epochal Ebulysion: Evolution of a Filipino Family.)
His latest, Century of Birthing, also stands on its own. Telling two seemingly unrelated tales, it is a grand meditation on the roles of the artist, the prophet and the acolyte. The first story focuses on Homer, a filmmaker who has spent years working on his latest opus — and still isn’t happy with it. Hounded by friends, co-workers and festival programmers to finish the damn thing, he resists every entreaty, countering a programmer’s pleas to send him the film with, “I don’t make films for festivals, I make them for cinema.” (The story plays a little like 8½, minus the surrealism and with a dollop of Warhol thrown in.) The second story concentrates on a Christian cult in a rural region — a group largely comprised of young women (referred to as “virgins”) and dominated by its charismatic leader, Father Turbico. When one of the longest-standing members strays, the impact is catastrophic for both her and the cult.
Diaz portrays both men as troubled and problematic figures, pressured to perform but also ruled by their own romantic conception of themselves. Father Turbico carefully primps himself before meeting with one of his disciples. Homer gives long interviews about the nature of cinema — Diaz, as if to indicate that he’s not convinced by his apparent stand-in’s rhetoric, drowns out the dialogue with industrial noise and almost-decipherable chatter. The characters are linked by public professions of fealty to their gods (Homer’s devotion to cinema; Turbico’s peculiar take on Christianity), and both have followers whose devotion proves to be less than healthy.
Told almost entirely in long takes that are alternately transfixing, claustrophobic and penetrating, Century of Birthing boasts exquisite black-and-white imagery. Indeed, it may be Diaz’s most entrancing film to date — and it’s certainly his most personal. –TIFF
Lavrente Indico Diaz is a multi-awarded independent filmmaker who was born on December 30, 1958 and raised in Cotabato,Mindanao. He works as director, writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, poet, composer, production designer and actor all at once. He is especially notable for the length of his films, some of which run for up to eleven hours. His eight-hour Melancholia, a story about victims of summary executions, won the Grand Prize-Orizzonti award at the Venice Film Festival 2008. His work Death in the Land of Encantos also competed and represented the country at the Venice Film Festival documentary category in 2007. It was granted a Special Mention-Orizzonti. The Venice Film Festival calls him “the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema”.
Diaz says that he usually writes his scripts while shooting, letting his creative instincts take over and allowing the story to evolve as filming progresses. He tends not to follow industry conventions, such… read more
I just finished all 6 hours of this film and still don't know quite what to make of it. I really liked it at first, then I got bored, zoned out, started really disliking it and then started liking it again at the 4 hour mark. The film is all over the place but in these 6 hours were sudden moments that brought me away from my constant zoning out, and in those moments I felt a new shape for digital cinema coming thru.
There's a horrible pit in my stomach writing this. A film director practically worshiped as the future of cinema, but his films annoyingly have been restricted to be only viewed at film festivals, not anywhere a small town bumpkin like myself, or the ordinary public, could ever see it like you could a Bernardo Bertolucci or Federico Fellini film once ago, or at least in a fictitious world of the sixties and seventies where I was a mere wink in my parents' eyes. Aside from the forced upon elitism, the lucky few get this man's films, the lack of distribution on DVD or in cinemas bars people like me out, it was a wonderful delight for MUBI to put this up for anyone to see even if briefly. I will praise everyone involved in this for that. The film itself? Have you ever had that dreaded feeling that you'll be the odd man out? The black sheep? That you swear at points it'll be a great film on the second viewing, even if it might be impossible to see the film again, but there's something clearly amiss with said film still. Especially when you've gotten used to unconventional movies thanks to battering your mind with Godard to Michael Snow?
There's nothing unique in the film, but that wasn't a bad thing at first. It's a drama, shot in long takes, seen a lot in art cinema, but happens to be even longer in length then at least three films stuck together. The first two hours or so of this film were great, enrapturing in the potential and the rawness of the performances. Than something is amiss. I don't mind the film doesn't wrap its two parts up in a nice package. But why isn't there really anything that profound that I haven't heard before? Why is it that Diaz suddenly does the thing in this film he questions in his surrogate film director in the narrative? Why does it suddenly feel like Ki Kim-duk film with a forced abortion scene and sex, missing that director's piss and vinegar mentality even if many despise his films, and becomes trite? It feels like there's language here spoken only by a tiny club of cineastes here, and it feels a little lacking. At least with Satantango I felt like I was being sucked in a maelstrom of sensations where time itself stopped.
Matching digital posters for a recent screening of a 6-hour Filipino masterpiece.
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