Lav Diaz, one of the greatest auteurs in the Philippines’ filmmaking industry of today has brought us great honor with his impactful works of gripping art competing and winning in the most prestigious international film festival. His most recent product of unabridged filmic genius, Ang Babaeng Humayo has just taken home a Golden Lion during the 73rd Venice International Film Festival which was held earlier this year. Certainly, its triumph had been attained for a valuable reason-the reason being a painfully rational idea that would resound with viewers who get exposed to its spiritually vocal brutality. Perhaps this could all be linked to the simple fact that each and any Lav Diaz “film” turns what could easily be a regular viewing into an experience-an escapade to cinematic realms that at the same time also encloses us into a reality where everything seems to look inked in melancholy, and everyone looks betrayed.
Like much of Diaz’s films of the same caliber, his blessing is constantly covered in dreariness-sending a sorrowful, devastating letter for man to look down and realize about the broken state of humanity, all while also letting a person of the exact opposite tell about it in a way that lets her heart weep without remorse. Violence, crime and inhumanity in general is what gets talked about repeatedly, and its repetition of utterance in every other minute endlessly reminds us of its unspeakable cruelty that easily makes us despite its vile presence-presenting the film’s essence and potential legacy in Philippine cinema in the form of the classic revenge tale. We get trapped in the film’s cinematic dominion, and in there we share three and a half hours of time that gets us witnessing the impact of man’s lack of sanity. Dark as it may sound, it makes the point stick out with the help of photography and shortage of film score transforming every image into an edgy, realistically raw and untouched window to their tampered souls that breathe tightly.
The subtle social commentary heard through its other characters make for interesting and fun dialogues that turn even the smallest of characters into memorable gems who add more to what is expected of them. They aren’t too much of bit-players as they relish every moment with enlightening amusement, and each second that has their face/s showing up onscreen and spewing words that contain resonant messages never fail to attract souls and enlighten minds. Wisdom is what’s to be found, and they speak up for it. Some of them may look and sound silly, but nevertheless, their mental proficiency gets used as an asset to act as a facet of the film’s accessibility that hooks its mainstream audience to the representation of the emotionally broken, socially rejected Filipino people. We get to hear their stories, and they are utmost despondent-constructing psychological images of striking despair that awakens us of their circumstance. A standout character belonging to that powerhouse is John Lloyd Cruz’s Hollanda who, as the story unravels, bears his searing vulnerabilities that finds a link in Charo Santos’ Horacia.
As the two dig out each other’s backgrounds, a connection with tinges of grit and agony finds its way to spark deep emotions inside everyone involved, including us. Never before seen performances from both Santos and Cruz attack the screen, and with their audacious adroitness coming in at full speed to our consciousness, you are guaranteed to get knocked out with their splendid portrayals that easily give you your buck’s worth. Just one look, one stare, and you’re off to (silently) applause them anytime that they appear; be it together or separately. Ma’am Charo Santos’ performance is that of facial precedence than the usual that she offers. Her visage hides beneath hundreds of messages to analyze with regards to her characterization, and it becomes a special treat that can almost never be had in a regular film starring her. The man behind the camera, Lav Diaz violently, forcefully pushes her to walls that exceeds her boundaries, and the capabilities of acting so beautifully impactful that she shows completely lets us perceive her as less than a storyteller that we get to see on TV and more of a seasoned actress whose bravura explodes in every feverish minute. Certainly, Diaz’s undoubted capacity, again wonderfully threads another remarkable cinematic wandering-albeit this time there are some voids that needed to be filled to explain a little more concerning the enigmas at bay. Time surely is consumed to immerse, but sadly, there are discrepancies surrounding the narrative that almost fail in filling us in on the meaty details.
Nevertheless, this woman’s journey to find and explore what has become of society still manages to prove its cinematic voice as a powerful conversationalist through Horacia and the various people that we shake our hands with along the way-shattered souls distraught by filth and demons that plague the earth seeking for hope and care in a world that seems to step down on them. Faithfully, Lav vents out his frustrations and realizations on mankind’s seething errors in this film that chooses to be more personal; maintaining a tone that hails from the darkest corners of his mind. Astoundingly, grandeur is not what it keeps its eye on, but rather intimacy. Through it, the littlest details magically expand into something greater than one could possibly think of in a Diaz picture where extravagance seems to be a key player-for this auteur’s penchant for the macro gets thrown out in favor of micro thematic splendors that manage to overpower his haunting visuals. Nevertheless, nothing is lessened and all is contained and sealed with a certain degree of inventiveness to cover up the holes that are quite capable of expansion which constitutes for blatancy.
The noir-like camera work conjures visionary spectacles that submerge these people in the dark, and helps work miracles in exhaling a little more vigor to the apparent gloom. Precision is thoroughly apparent in what is told, and it gets time running in a manner that carries you along for this long walk to uncover what needs to be in this earth. Charo Santos’ comeback film truly is a shocker for audiences to savor which would keep one throwing praises at her for days. Like always, Lav embodies what needs to be in Philippine cinema with his meditative artistry that is composed like a prayer: sincere brutality and a voice that growls at society to heed what needs to. That being said, Ang Babaeng Humayo is a personal piece; a small yet graceful, virtually flawless theatrical essay that jots down the legacy and effects of innate evil in man that finds chances to compete with the Norte filmmaker’s other picture of grandeur that came out earlier this year in spite of the errors amidst its potent statements- elevating our psyches to various plateaus of conscious/spiritual contemplation in the span of three and a half hours that veers us away from the real world.
* Ang Babaeng Humayo is now showing in select Philippine cinemas from Star Cinema/Sine Olivia/Films Boutique. Rated R-16 by the MTRCB.