Independencia, just recently selected for the New York Film Festival, is 25 year old Filipino auteur Raya Martin’s seventh feature and hopefully the film to make his name in the States. Martin is part of what Mark Peranson, back in 2005, called the “first ripples” of a Filipino New Wave, a wave that seemed to be cresting, or at least gathering speed, at this year’s Cannes where Brillante Mendoza won the best director award for Kinatay, and Martin had two films in the official selection, this and Manila (co-directed with Adolfo Alix Jr). Until Mendoza’s Serbis last year, there had only ever been one Filipino feature in the history of the New York Film Festival: Lino Brocka’s Insiang in 1976.
Set in the early 20th Century during the American occupation of the Philippines, Independencia is entirely shot on studio sets with painted backdrops (you can see the trailer here). All of Martin's films, as far as I can tell, are heavily stylized, adopting the dominant aesthetic of the period of Filipino history he is dealing with (whether silent cinema, or portrait photography, or Hollywood studio productions) and Independencia has earned comparisons to Murnau, Von Sternberg and Guy Maddin.
When I contacted Raya Martin to ask him about his astonishing poster he told me that there are “two things I love more than, say, editing a film: thinking of a title and designing a poster. So I usually already have ideas even when I’m just shooting it. I came across an old postcard photo of a woman with a hole as a head. It looked like paper eaten by a cockroach overnight in place of her face. Somehow there was also comfort in that creepy looking picture. So we decided to do something like that.”
The result has an almost J-Horror quality, though also saying something potent about the obliteration of history. In the Philippines, however, since the actors are well known, the official poster, while striking, is rather more conventional.