I finished watching this a couple of hours ago, a mysterious and haunting film which leaves its spectators with many unanswered questions. In the first part of the film we witness interactions between three characters, a prostitute, a pimp and a nun, which only at first glance seem to be authentic. After a while the façade becomes frail and we begin to understand that each of them is playing a role. The parallels to cinema and in particular method acting are evident, it helps one of the characters to confront the struggle of her adopted daughter who equally ended up as a prostitute and helps another protagonist to escape his daily routine as a publisher. Though the real-life game seems to also have another purpose, a therapy to possibly cure melancholy. The theme of the “desaparecidos” during the Marcos regime is ever present, and especially Alberta whose husband was among those who never returned seems to use the personality switch as an opportunity to gain distance. Anyhow she gets confronted with her past when a client recognizes her, apparently if regarded in a broader context it’s not possible for the Filipinos to run away from their country’s past and its legacy. I think the way Lav Diaz approaches those issues is really interesting, while in the first part of the film we get political hints and hidden devices, the dictatorship is more directly confronted in the second part when for instance the publisher talks to a friend about a book that relates Philippine cinema to the country’s history and national identity. In the third part of the film the bodies of “desaparecidos” are discovered and the camera moves into the past and into the jungle in order to depict the struggle of Alberta’s husband and other rebels while they were fighting against the dictatorship; the confrontation is now direct and the past is no longer the past. I’d like to hear some opinions by people who’ve watched that the film especially in regard to how “Melancholia” questions history, identity and memory.
P.S.: I haven’t yet watched Lars von Trier’s latest with the same title, but apparently he paid homage to Lav Diaz in one sequence of the film, in a short excerpt I saw his female protagonist browses for the word “death” on the internet and gets the result “Death in the Land of Encantos”.
Is there a “legal” way to see his Diaz’s films? I’ve been wanting to watch his films, but they’re not easy to get a hold of.
Yes, there is a legal way to purchase DVDs of “Melancholia”, “Death in the Land of Encantos” and “Heremias”. I suggest to get in contact with JP Carpio (http://mubi.com/users/192555) and he will tell you how to buy them directly from Lav Diaz.
Yeah, if I remember correctly, it’s something like $30 a film, and Lav will even autograph them. If JP doesn’t reply to you at MUBI, I’ll contact him for you.
Guys, I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but, honestly, I’m not too keen on blind-buying a couple of dvds for $30. I don’t know what I was thinking when I asked the question—maybe if there were some legitimate website streaming his films or a place to rent them.
(@Blue do you know if the Wong Audio-Visual library carries his stuff?)
@ Apursansar, I’ve seen this—in fact it was my very first Lav Diaz film. I’ll try to post my thoughts when I have more time.
@Jazz: Well, there’s no legitimate website that screens his films which I know of. At some point it was discussed to show his films on The Auteurs (the good old days), but apparently the deal didn’t work out. If you’re lucky though you may get a chance to see one of his films at a festival which is obviously the best way to watch them.
Thanks, Blue. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on it.
I’d like to hear some opinions by people who’ve watched that the film especially in regard to how “Melancholia” questions history, identity and memory.
Damn… this film is very high on my to-watch list.
@ Jazz, I’ve no idea if the UH lbrary carries it. I’d say it’s unlikely though. From my understanding, there are no commercial DVDs of Lav’s films in circulation. They are basically just burned DVDs right from his own computer, and he just sells them to interested people.
What I remember most vividly is Julian’s compound (shall we call it?). The emptiness of the way people walk and talk and absolutely the manner in which they play that extended droning musical sequence. There is such a lifelessness to the place Julian believes is the true path to happiness.
And that’s contrasted again by the exuberance shown for the commentary (in the same house) on cinema. Almost as if the escape provided by art is all we have and a false world. One can’t confront reality by constructing an escape from it.
The cyclical element is incredibly strong, but really it’s even stronger in Death of the Land of Encantos and Batang Westside… which is an incredible statement.
@Blue, I got so excited when you said $30 dollars because I didn’t remeber it being that low, but I checked my inbox just to make sure thats what JP wrote but it turns out to be $90 each :( I am going to try and clear up some of my downloads to make space to get at least two of his films including this one.
“The emptiness of the way people walk and talk and absolutely the manner in which they play that extended droning musical sequence.”
Yes, I agree on that. The scene in which Julian is standing in the water as if all life had left him is also incredibly strong. We never learn anything concrete about his past, but apparently (his girlfriend?) Patricia has also been among the “desaparecidos”, and his hope for her to return has over the years turned into sheer desperation. The film’s epilogue in which Alberta searches for Julian and discovers him in total isolation is probably the most saddening moment of “Melancholia”, it shows that the role play couldn’t help him any more than Rina who commited suicide after their return. (One can’t confront reality by constructing an escape from it.)
I’m still sad that I haven’t yet watched a Lav Diaz film. He seems like such a cool guy, and his movies just sound incredible. I should probably get around to… finding them…
Thanks for starting this topic, Apu, and for Useless (Wu Yong) for directing it to me. I had just seen Batang West Side recently and Melancholia brings me back, being the second Diaz film I ever saw. I found it quite disorienting compared to the more linear Heremias (Book One), but looking back on it now, it’s all clear, knowing Lav’s preoccupations with our past haunting us, something we can never get away from, no matter how we try to forget. All of Lav’s films have a sense of Melancholia, just created by people who do terrible things to each other, feeling that what they’re doing is justified.
I do feel when it come to details that Lav specifically makes these films understood only by Filipinos. Like specifically in this film, when the dead body is left on the horse, there is the superstition that the body may rise again from the dead. The long take that lingers is perfect for that moment. Or what is it exactly are rebels fighting for? It’s clearly past the days of Marcos, the film is set in the present day. Yes, there still are guerilla forces in the jungles and mountains are still fighting for a socialist/Communist government. It is also been said that more rebels died in the Cory era than in the Marcos era, and Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis (also highly recommended complementary viewing to Melancholia) depicts this. College students are still lured into joining what’s called the National People’s Army, first by joining “progressive” activist orgs, then, used as euphemism, “go up to the mountains”.
The film brings up a lot of discussion topics, but the theme of identity appeals to me the most. Because who are we, Filipinos, really? We were never even one country until the Spaniards decided that the group of islands would be. Our different languages still divide us, and even more so, our religion, as Muslim Mindanao wants to be an independent country. Not even having a foundation for identity to begin with is where it all starts, we try these different masks, but rarely do we find any that fit. I remember a Time article that was saying that Filipinos were amongst the happiest people in the world, despite the poverty, but Lav’s films show otherwise. A film like Melancholia and even Encantos and Batang West Side, that we also suffer from debilitating depression, and it drives us to madness.
@ Walberto, shit, yeah, it’s more like $90, you’re right. I remember thinking to myself that I was going to buy one of the DVDs just to support Lav but also thinking that it was going to be a hefty chunk out of my pocket. But for those of you interested, Lav has gone on record to say that he doesn’t mind people watching his films by downloading them from the internet.
As far as I know JP and Lav lost their DVD guy and havent had any DVDs for sale for over a year — i’ve been trying to get my hands on some.
When he was (indirectly) asked on an Internet cinephiles group, oh well what the heck, on a Facebook group for mostly Filipino cinephiles, what he personally thought of piracy, Lav Diaz said “Piracy is a cultural revolution. Mapapanood ba ng mga farmers si Tarkovsky kung walang piracy? (Would the farmers be able to watch Tarkovsky without piracy?) Piracy is the revenge of the proletariat. Let piracy thrive.” :)
This thread has severely increased my desire to see his films asap. It’s been discussed within our little podcast group to do an episode on these films and hopefully we can get to it in the next couple of months.
Thanks to Apu for bringing it up. No matter how many incredible artists I discover, there are that many more left to find.
Reading Astro’s write-up, I remembered having this online discourse with someone about the concept of national consciousness, particularly with the Filipinos, which was in a way a main theme in Raya Martin’s A Short Film About the Indio-Nacional, that the ignorance of our ancestors, the yielding acceptance of the colonial/imperialist rule, and their prolonged fight against all of the country’s oppressors throughout the decades among other things has caused all of its Filipino descendants and soon-to-be descendants to be sorrowful for eternity.
I guess this can go with this cycle of both depression under oppressive rule and depression living in an uncaring, problematic world, being in a sort of limbo, that we see in Death in the Land of Encantos and Melancholia, and, I’m sure in his other films that I haven’t seen too. That anyone who dares to fight against the vicious cycle, the system, is doomed to die, fail, descend into madness, experience even more sadness.
I’m still not sure what to think of the national consciousness concept, considering how most of us get away from the native country while the others stay, others don’t want anything to do with it and don’t even accept the Philippine identity as theirs while others try to fight for its country in vain, now maybe not against foreign nations but against the Philippine government itself that is majorly influenced by foreign forces. Perhaps, it’s not national consciousness but more of a national condition; we might all have different intentions and goals yet all suffer from the same condition shown in Melancholia.
I didn’t think of that superstition from the dead body on the horse at all and I’m not even sure if I know about that superstition; I didn’t get that at all. Does that mean I’m not truly a Filipino? =P
I want to see this, too, but $90. :(
@ Jazz, Lav is on record saying that he doesn’t mind people watching his films by downloading, so you don’t have to pay $90. He owns the rights to his films, so there’s no issue of legality here.
Haven’t seen any Lav Diaz film, really haven’t seen very much of filipino cinema. Reading through this thread has made me frantically search all my resources for filipino films. Diaz is one I’ve only read and heard about, but really don’t know anything about the work. Raya Martin has been in that group for a while as well. search search search…
Thanks a lot to Carlo for your interpretation, you’ve tackled a couple of points that kept we wondering and which may indeed be better understood by Filipinos. The way in which Lav Diaz turned the country’s history into an omnipresent and haunting shadow reminded me of how the violence against communist sympathisers in Nabua becomes the background of various Weerasethakul films. The switch to the resistance fighters in the third part of “Melancholia” actually made me interpret it as Lav Diaz wanting to more directly confront the happenings by moving into the past given that at one point Alberta mentioned to the therapist that Renato disappeared when her adopted daughter was eight. But then again it’s hard to know for how many years the struggle of these three resistance fighters continued, so you may as well be right that the jungle scene can be linked to present days. The lingering shot which shows the dead body on the horseback is indeed haunting, a remarkable moment in this film. I would also appreciate a further explanation of the superstition behind it. The identity question you point out also seems like the main aspect for me in regard to Melancholia, Encantos and Batang. It perhaps becomes most obvious in Batang since the film takes place in a foreign country and the expatriots are more directly confronted with questioning their national identity, but as you mention it always links to depression, and just like the characters in Melancholia the policeman in Batang has to undergo a therapy in order to handle the violent past. As for Scorpio’s comparision, I need to check out Raya Martin’s Indio Nacional someday soon. In the final part of his Buenas noches, España I could already notice the way he confronts Philippine history and national identity by displaying the works by an expatriated Filipino artist of the revolution in a Spanish museum. I think it’s striking that Philippine artists even if working in the exterior display a very strong national conciousness, though it may be right what Scorpio says that some expatriates may just like to get rid of their roots given that former colonial dependency is still omnipresent may it be Spanish phrases that became part of the language or Spanish surnames. It would be interesting to hear some more thoughts on the question of national conciousness (or condition) in that regard.
@Blue or anyone else,
Do I have a specific app to download the film? Does anyone have a youtube link?
An outstanding film. We follow characters who are essentially shadows of their former selves. They do anything they can to escape the sad past, assuming multiple identities just to venture farther to a much deeper and darker place. They live in darkeness both literal and metaphorically.