Sailing Angry On The Lav Boat: A Review Of "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw"
Referring to Lav Diaz’s latest film in the same breath as Lav Boat, will be the last inkling of irony or humor in this review. A co-production of Globe Studios, Epic Media and Sine Olivia, his Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, is an angry diatribe that sees this film auteur move away from his allegorical or rife with metaphor and symbolism approach, to something that is more direct, concise, and naked in its sheer frustration and dissatisfaction over what is happening in our nation today. The only concession to evolving a film subtext or stylised context would be to transform this very political film into a musical. But even here, Lav will do it in his own way—without any musical accompaniment, the lines are either sung acapella or declaimed as a poem, and won’t win any awards for most melodious or hummable.
Set in a remote barrio called Ginto in 1979; the film chronicles the abuses and disregard for civil liberties that a government-backed para-military civilian force wreaks on the populace. Random killings/executions of people even slightly suspected of being Communist or anti-military reaches levels that plunge the whole community in a grip of terror—perpetuated by the very people who were supposed to safeguard and protect the local citizenry. While 1979 would mean the Martial Law Years, there is no mistaking how Lav is holding the film up as a mirror to what is happening with us today.
The more recognisable actors involved in this film would be Piolo Pascual and Shaina Magdayao; Piolo as Hugo, a dissident poet critical of the regime, and Shaina as Lorena, his wife, who’s a doctor and disappears when she embarks on a Ginto medical mission. The film basically chronicles what was happening in Ginto, and what befalls Piolo’s character, Hugo, as he moves beyond despondency and travels to Ginto to try and discover what happened to his wife.
And for my money, while they’re the more popular actors, the ones I’m most impressed by in the film would be the following: Bituin Escalante as the Kwentista or Narrator, as she makes the strongest impression in terms of singing and delivering her lines. And I loved Hazel Orencio as the sadistic and ultra-violent female soldier. Also impressive would be Noel Domingo as Chairman Narciso, the literally double-faced local overlord - who in a telling manner, his speeches are left without subtitles. It’s as if Lav is saying we know what these despots and demagogues are all like, full of lies and hatred, not worth subtitling.
A Lav Diaz film is an acquired taste; and even if at three hours and fifty four minutes this is one of his shorter films, it does require concentration and commitment from the viewer. At times oppressively repetitive and seemingly stagnated, the film operates on a pace that may be bewildering for many. But this is the Lav who won’t compromise or bow to the dictates of conventional film-making. This is his angriest film, and if anything, it is a condemnation of how the Filipino is ready to commit the same mistakes, and just doesn’t learn from history.