23 April 2018 | Smart_Monkey
Lav Diaz is a true national filmmaker, one with purpose and unstoppable drive. Ever since watching Melancholia (2008), I've fallen in love with his uncanny ability to capture a given state of mind so perfectly and infectiously. In Melancholia, he (fittingly) encapsulated the feeling of melancholy in what I'd consider to be the best depiction of depression in all of film. With Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, he created a piercing representation the trauma and cyclical nature of oppression Filipinos have suffered, and continue to suffer. In From What is Before, he displayed the weight of seeing your world collapse, as your loved ones are put through hell and your community fades away due to martial law's strangling effects on society.
In Evolution of a Filipino Family, he rolled all these together into one mammoth-sized relief of his experiences with governmental oppression and Filipino life; a hard, Sisyphean struggle to keep pressing forward. The ups and downs of Filipino culture are examined under a lens of deep empathy, and he examines them in a way which bring you to understand these ideas as though you've lived them. The real-time action makes things feel organic, and by the end of a 10.5 hour journey you feel like you've watched the collapse of a family who actually existed, or who might as well exist. It's by getting close to them that you realize how destructive the external forces which tore them apart are.
The stream-of-consciousness editing and narrative structure make it feel like characters are reflecting on their past throughout, feelings and memories are stitched together to form a window into a country's collective suffering. Beneath everything is this underlying dread which runs through a majority of the film, and it's delivered on for what feels like an eternity of utter hopelessness taking place over 3-4 hours. His characters encapsulate specific areas of Filipino culture and society with painstaking accuracy, and one thread that runs among each of them is this helplessness. Not just directionlessness in life, but literally nowhere to go. It's societal entrapment, governmental entrapment. Rumors and religion rule their lives, they're stuck fighting to live decently in poverty but there is always a major deterrent in the possibilities they find for improvement, there is seemingly no end.
While there isn't that much "action", it's more the collective impact of becoming accustomed to their pace of living only to see it inevitably dismantled. How everything comes together is absolutely staggering and can't be explained further than you just have to experience it. His mastery of aesthetic brings to life images and storylines that will haunt me forever, in a completely distinct way from other filmmakers I've seen. The burnt, grainy, hazy cinematography makes it very atmospheric and true to its themes in a production sense. Filipino is etched into this film's dna, and it's palpable in every frame. The characters, the communities, all these events he paints feel pulled straight from reality, and they kind of are:
"I have a very clear picture of that period and the characters' struggles. I grew up during that period and I know these characters; I have tried to understand that period and will continue to try and fathom it, and ultimately, with my works, I am examining and confronting it." - Lav Diaz, Lying Down in a World of Tempest
What struck me particularly is how he captures family in the Philippines too. The large role of family undeniably embedded in the culture and, having family there as well, it resonated so deeply to see people here who I could actually know. Who maybe I do know. While these characters make mistakes, it's clear there's so much love between them and that they're trying, desperately trying to live happily. The weight of poverty and a government/system which relentlessly pushes them down, preventing them from growing past their flaws. And it's difficult to blame them when they have no way to know better. With this though, they still continue to try, and they still manage to have moments of warmth between the stretches of emptiness. And while the film is ultimately tragic, it's important to me that Diaz included these moments which seem to have been missing in a lot of his other work.
There's a plot which involves a grandma taking care of 3 teenage girls, and by far it's one of the best portrayals of family I've seen in cinema. The film communicates this aching pain and alienation that consumes them with such incredible realism, as they live outcasted from society surviving on next to nothing. Yet they make it by, through this familial bond that just completely struck me to the core. You see them quarrel, you see them gather around and listen to the radio, you see them accept some of the harsh realities around them. And it just hit like a ton of bricks for me to see someone capture that way of life, to give a voice to those without one. It made me think back to my own family, what they've been through and what they're going through currently. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have what I have now. It made me realize the depth of suffering that really occurred during the Marcos regime, that entire segment of the Philippine population. It hit me in a place few films have.
Though it is definitely the roughest I've seen from Diaz, I think that roughness makes it even better. There's great authenticity and you can tell it truly, truly comes from the heart. He made this on an extremely limited budget over the course of 8 years with friends; no script, just a strong sense of direction. He wanted to make a truthful film about the Filipino struggle, he wanted to display truth about the condition of his country in making Evolution. And he did it. Through this endless passion and compassion for his people, he strung together one of the most deeply powerful explorations of Filipino culture ever. Family, perseverance, love, tragedy, survival, empathy, having the will to keep going no matter what the circumstances are, family bonding, singing, listening to dramas on the radio.
This is the one to define the Philippines.