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Lullaby of Memory: Close-Up on “An Investigation on the Night That Won’t Forget”

For Lav Diaz, cinema is a bulwark against time, against memory. Cinema is living memory.
Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Lav Diaz's An Investigation on the Night That Won't Forget (2012) is showing February 8 - March 10, 2017 in the retrospective It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz.
The night in question in Lav Diaz’s An Investigation on the Night That Won’t Forget is September 1, 2009. The night that two film critics, Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, were murdered in their home in Quezon City, Philippines.
An Investigation on the Night That Won’t Forget opens with a title card: “Part 1. Cradle of Memory.” The next image is a black and white shot of Erwin Romulo, Alexis’ close friend and editor. The doorway of his office frames him on either side as he sits in a chair facing the camera, a desk to his left, a bookshelf behind him. For the next 55 minutes the camera will not move and Erwin will remain seated in his chair, recalling the events of the days preceding the night of September 1st, then the night itself, and the days and months and years that have followed, all touched by its memory.
There are two stories here. The first is that of the tragedy and Erwin and Alexis’ family trying to find a resolution to the unsolved murder, struggling against bureaucracy, inefficiency, and politics. The second is that of the way in which the narrative of these years is told. We watch Erwin as he goes about reconstructing memories and imposing a structure upon them. He speaks in a mix of Tagalog and English. He gesticulates, and from time to time taps both feet, or just his left one. Sometimes his memory of the sequence of events is clear and strong, other times he doubles back to append a recollection, to iron out the timeline. These physical tics reveal the difficulty and emotional tax the storyteller has to pay in order to create this narrative.
These 55 minutes bear witness to the simultaneous indelibility of certain moments that cannot be forgotten and the inherently eroding nature of time which marks other things foggier. Then, documentation—cinema—is a bulwark against time, against memory. Cinema is living memory.
“Part 2. Cradle of the Night” is the title card that leads into the last 15 minutes of the film which are a montage of street scenes (perhaps somewhere in Manila). These shots are accompanied by a voiceover that begins with: "lullaby of memory, patching, weaving, into stories told, essays on sorrowful hymns and on a tragedy aching on backs turned, departures and struggles with time.” This section has a minutes-long shot of people streaming through the night holding candles (in a procession or perhaps some sort of celebration or commemoration). These people likely know nothing of Nika and Alexis, but may have their own unforgettable nights burned into memory.
These 15 minutes, this voice, and these images cry for the past and the futures that never will be and for the burden of memory.

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