TORONTO–Who could spare 10 hours to watch an unedited movie in black and white, sans musical scoring, filled with interruptions brought by technical glitches such as erratic sound level and occasional silence even if the actor’s lips are visibly delivering a dialogue?
Spending almost half of your day at the screening of “Evolution of a Filipino Family,” is half worth it. Directed by Lav Diaz, the saga is the lone Philippine entry at the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It should have been trimmed down to three hours at the most since most seemingly never-ending scenes are unwarranted . The longer it goes, the more questions it raises making it more puzzling.
Why does a death scene at the latter part of the motion picture have to last for 30 minutes when it could be presented in five to 10 minutes? One of the viewers quipped: “It’s the longest death scene I’ve ever seen!” It’s at this point that the weary and anxious audience at the half-filled Varsity Theatre’s 30-seater VIP room last Sept. 18 shared a common wish that the “the end” screen would soon pop-up.
The story evolves around a family of farmers encompassing two political administrations from the martial law era to the Mendiola massacre that took place during the leadership of former President Corazon Aquino.
There’s no doubt that the theme is brilliant as it magnifies the often ignored underprivileged farmers who play a vital role in the still agricultural Philippine economy.
The film, which obviously needs finishing technical touches despite its almost decade-long making, features three generations of farmers. The clan of Kadyo (Pen Medina) owns a small portion of farmland. Despite their hard labor and honest living, they remain impoverished as their daily existence has been adversely affected by harsh policies imposed by the regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos up to the unstable governance of Aquino.
Kadyo has a lunatic sister who picks up a baby, she names Ray, abandoned in a mountain of garbage. In his childhood, his adoptive mother is raped and murdered by drunkard neighbors. At a tender age of 10, he becomes a killer when he guns down his mother’s attackers using his Uncle Kadyo’s pistol.
To escape, Ray wanders from one place to another. For a brief period, he stays in the house of a lower-middle-class family in Quezon City. Eventually, he finds another family living in a destitute rural area. He helps his adoptive father and brothers gather wood and dig for the elusive gold. Wherever he goes, poverty always follows him.
Meanwhile, his Uncle Kadyo is thrown to jail due to his connection to a province-based rebel group and smuggling activities. His three young daughters are left to the care of their aging grandmother. Although minors, they are forced to till their tiny piece of land, even offer their service to other landowners to increase their income. The harder they work, the more difficult it is for them to get out of dearth.
After years of incarceration, Kadyo aims to earn quick big bucks by teaming up with his crooked former jail warden Mayor (Joel Torre). They are hired to assassinate internationally-renowned Filipino film director Lino Brocka. A few days before the execution of the vicious plan, Kadyo backs out, a decision that results in his own death. One of Mayor’s men stabs him as he tries to immerse himself to the crowd looking intently at how bloody farmers’ protest in Mendiola unfolds.
The most interesting parts of the “Evolution of a Filipino Family” are video clips of Philippine history such as Marcos’ declaration of martial law, Ninoy Aquino’s death in the airport tarmac, the Edsa Revolution, series of coup attempts and bloodbath in Mendiola. Although some footages are carelessly inserted in a seemingly cut-and-paste method, Philippine history enthusiasts will have a glimpse of what happened in the past and realize its effect on present times and certainly the future.
Similar to the style of Filipino filmmakers whose works were screened at previous TIFFs, Diaz tackles Philippine social problems including poverty in the countryside, insurgency, child labor, juvenile delinquency, human rights violations among others. However, they are presented in the manner that chokes the spectators. Everything is dished up in one plate that makes it difficult to swallow and digest.
While running time is four or five times longer than an average feature film has, the “Evolution of a Filipino Family” is still technically half-baked, which is evident in annoying lulls after almost every sequence, unpolished editing, hazy cinematography and poor sound quality. At times, you get the feeling of viewing home videos because of the absence of necessary sugar coating to make it appear more visually appetizing.
The convincing performances of actors Medina, Torre and the rest of the cast who are mostly unpopular on Philippine silver screen perk up the raw flavor of the film.
Despite the huge amount of time invested in this project, it appears that Diaz had to rush its completion because it is still far from being labeled as well done. It’s fair to say that Diaz’s material is meaty. It should have been served short but sweet.