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Cannes 2009: The Saga of a Guerilla in the Philippines (“Independencia,” Martin)

Raya Martin's Independencia has found the cinematic equivalent of a double negative: artifice referencing artifice cancels itself out.  His minute little saga, which begins with a mother and son in the late 1890s fleeing the American invasion of the Philippines by hiding out in the forest, and ends with the son having a son all his own, still hiding from the encroaching Yanks, is shot in homage to old Hollywood films.  All the pictorial chiaroscuro of the Philippine forest is fake, flat matte shots, exquisite studio lighting, and precisely controlled rainstorms.  The lush soundtrack was recorded elsewhere, the music even lusher, upstaging the false humility of the beautifully canned jungle sounds.  The homage to—and, most probably, the critique of–the fakery of American cinema to tell a Philippine story is problematically muddled by this beauty.  Independencia doesn't look like any old Hollywood film; it looks like Sternberg's The Saga of Anatahan.  The surface beauty transcends the purpose, and considering something like a quarter of this film is ambient shots of wind blowing through the trees and grass, along with insert shots of the jungle in waiting, the political import of the film seems to dwindle in the face of, simply, Martin's visually and aurally lovely film.  Nevertheless, life, as they say, finds a way.  The hilarious mustache of a murderous American soldier carries with it more critique—and vitality—than the more dreamy aspects of the film, and the occasional presence of chicks tottering round the set and birds clearly released from cages do a fine job of stirring the more unflappable side of the film.  Martin easily conjures an atmosphere of modest, supple dreaminess—not an ounce of pretension exists in the film despite its stylistic conceit—but in the face of the location work of someone like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Independencia's chill vibe is welcome but seems easy.  More importance is placed on the surreal naturalism of the film's beautifully painted matte backgrounds than any sort of human or story presence, and while Martin's natural sense of space gives everything on camera its due, I wish there were more on camera than the splendor of a studio production.

The Saga of a Guerilla in the Philippines? I didn’t see any Guerilla’s in the film.
“I didn’t see any Guerilla’s in the film.” Know thy Lang, Alexis. ;-)
Ah, but the use / relevance of the reference, Fernando? ;-)
Hiding out is it’s own kind of resistance, no? It’s own kind of fight…okay okay it’s a stretch. Alexis, I saw your name in the credits, no?
A little bit of a stretch ;-) Good eye, Daniel. Yes, I helped clean-up the translation of the English subtitles. I like the film quite a lot. I understand your point, though, that the quality of and attention paid to the image can overwhelm other elements of the film – a similar criticism could be leveled at Raya’s previous ‘Indio Nacional’ (have you seen it or any of his previous work?) – but I think ‘Independencia’ says something that includes, but goes beyond, its pictorial quality.

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