Ang Babaeng Humayo

ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (2016), dir. Lav Diaz


Tito Genova Valiente

Men, in our society, leave for distant places but women stay at home. In Lav Diaz’s film, Ang Babaeng Humayo, Horacia is the mother who leaves for prison. Horacia is accused of a crime that, we will find out, she did not commit. When she is released, it is only because someone else has admitted to the crime after many long years.

Petra, the woman who committed the crime for which Horacia is now in prison for, admits to the crime. This is the same woman who has become Horacia’s friend in the correctional. The prison warden has become a friend as well, having only kind words for Horacia, which fulfils the template for correctional as a location for women bonding with women. The world of men seems unkind and cruel. Where men in prison cells are pictured as out to slay each other, the women jailed are imagined to be protective of each other. This bright scenario is, however, the only light at the end of this film, a dark tunnel into the life of a woman who left but who really never arrives in any kind of destination.

Length matters, in life as in cinema. We are aware of the eight or nine hours that Lav Diaz has previously navigated. The film Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (North: The Limits of History) which clocked in at some four or five hours, gave us a preview of what brevity, relative, as it may be, could do to the legendary visual languor of Lav Diaz’s kind of narrating.

In The Woman Who Left, Diaz shortens the storytelling to a little over four hours. The immediate impression the audience would get is how the meditative pace, the gaps and silences are indeed essential to the kind of story the film is telling.

I felt there was no need to hurry at all. I sensed escape into a great plot, one that naturally thickens because there is warranted plodding, a digging deep into the roots, the soul of a theme.

Lav Diaz has found the formula, it seems, for a film that thinks out about guilt, revenge and the questions one asks in isolation. There is enough time –more than enough time—to look at the character and see them think and talk about their thoughts. The luxury of space turns into a surplus of time for us to travel with the characters.

Released from prison, Horacia becomes even more imprisoned by the things she wants to do. She finds her daughter again but soon discovers her husband is dead and her son is missing.

The characters of Horacia and the other players in this saga are always out looking for something. For Eva Hoffman, memory “can perform retrospective maneuvers to compensate for fate.” Horacia, the woman who left has lost touch of fate if fate is the act of looking forward. There is no forwarding space in this woman, only a backward remembering of what the world has done to her.

The dichotomy of light and shadow runs like a varicose vein of themes in The Woman Who Left. Horacia leaves the bleakness of the prison only to find the day too bright for any of her plans. So, this woman dresses up like a man and appears out of the shadow into the night. In the darkness, Horacia befriends a balut-vendor who is bitter about many things. The two became partners in the dark as Horacia thinks about killing the man who has falsely accused her of a crime.

When Horacia steps out of prison, she does not automatically become the good citizen to emulate. She knows the power of her release surges when it is hidden. Except for her daughter and a few acquaintances, no one knows that Horacia has been released. There is a reason for this and the film solves and resolves this in the most original way: the woman oppressed is avenged by a transgender, a man who has left his maleness but will never get to any femaleness at all. In transit, the action of the transgender is neither here nor there, his motive bereft of any motive that will lift him/her above the other characters in this parable of prodigality.

Evil, however, in the person of Rodrigo Trinidad basks in the light of day, in the most public of places, the Catholic Church. Rodrigo is also within the reach of priests ready to bless him and his endeavours. And yet, it is at night when Horacia wants to seek revenge against this man who used to love him and, in his most despicable of deeds, remains a creature of the brightest of days.

The scene of Rodrigo with the priest remains for me the scariest point in the film. The scene shows Rodrigo seated a few chairs away from the priest. Rodrigo asks the most banal of questions: Is there a God? To this the priest replies that he has a faith he holds on to – a “pananampalataya,” a form of worshipping that helps him cope with the “God” whose existence Rodrigo is questioning. Michael de Mesa paints a terrible, terrifying character. When the priest leaves, he is still there seated. With no complementary close-up shot to let us in his mind, De Mesa’s smirk could be felt from afar as he chuckles, impressed with his own duplicity and the incapacity of any good society to stop him. Evil as the saddest form of aloneness is difficult to portray but Diaz has done it in this film masterfully.

The rest of the characters in the film, The Woman Who Left, are all shady characters in the literal sense of the word. They all live in shadows, in darkness to better protect them from the light, which is reserved for the wealthy and the powerful.

Horacia at night joins a vendor, a “kuba” or hunchback no less. Nonie Buencamino humanizes this otherwise trite figure whose appearance has always been melodramatically fleshed out. Buencamino makes it possible for us to understand the strange behavior of this woman he shares the dark with.

As Horacia, Charo Santos-Concio has the grand presence of an archetype. Her physicality allows her to be Mother Courage and Mater Dolorosa all at once. When drunk, she confesses to losing her temper, and Santos-Concio does a magnificently awkward handling of a gun. This mother can be mean. Now, this is the irony of this actress that has imbued her with visual strength but in the story, she is the undisputed loser. She is the one who left her home not because she wanted to but because the man-made laws compelled her to do so. Outside, the mastermind, always the person with a mind who can master events, is male and free. Where does this condemnation come from?

The media have been quite not fair to the other lead in the film: John Lloyd Cruz as Hollanda, the transgender, named after a country that was randomly picked as the globe turned. A la suerte or out of luck is how we call Hollanda’s situation. Cruz is the man/woman who leaves his/her place and moves on and on to find a place where he could die. In that island, Hollanda meets Horacia, the woman who left and is now back in a place that is quite not her own. For all the rituals of naming that has gone to Hollanda’s birth, she/he has really no place in this earth. As someone who seeks to find the right place to die with a woman who is trying to find another time to live in, Cruz is both an itinerant circus clown and a cartographer of bad dreams. The scene of John Lloyd Cruz with Charo Santos-Concio as they talk and drink, all this time, while seated on a sofa, is the other horrifying scene in the film. There, two persons who are good in themselves talk of their lives as if they control it. Little do they know that both of their lives depend on the kindness and viciousness of strangers. John Lloyd Cruz is given a character that requires a tour de force performance and he proves to be a tricky tour guide. He makes us believe he is bad when in fact he is truly good.

In this land of stars, we rarely have a film compelling because of its narrative. The film, The Woman Who Left/ Ang Babaeng Humayo is a good example of a film driven by a grand story, told in a screenplay and cinematography both attributed to its director Lav Diaz. Finally, the stasis of Diaz’s camera creates the many diverse movements of this quiet, disturbing concerto about evil and good and how we are always in transit between the two mysteries.


Rolando Tolentino

Bilib ako sa mga director na nagle-level up sa kanilang exemplaryo nan gang gawain. Si Lav Diaz ay marahil nasa ikatlong yugto (so far) ng kanyang sining: nauna ang pagpasok sa komersyal na indie filmmaking na nagpatibay sa explorasyon ng kanyang pelikula bilang mga sentral natauhan at pag-inog sa sentral na hibla ng naratibo, ikalawa ang pagpapaunlad at pagkamit ng sukdulang slow cinema na ukol sa ordinaryong buhay ng ipit sa historical napagkasadlak sa diktadurya ng Marcoses sa stilo pang neorealismo, at itong panghuli, ang ensemble na tauhan sa isang maliit na komunidad na may mas dulot na naratibong gratifikasyon sa manonood.

Tinataya kong nagsimula itong ikatlong yugto ng sining ni Diaz sa Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (2013), at pinaunlad sa Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (2014), Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016), at kasalukuyang nasa Ang Babaeng humayo (2016). Masalimuot ang sining – poetika at estetika – ni Diaz dahil kalkulado ang kabagalan ng pacing, ritmo at tensyon (individual, panlipunan at historical) sa yugtong ito ng kanyang pelikula.

Nagpapatuloy ang politikal na proyekto ng sining ni Diaz. Una ay sa pagpapaunlad ng pelikula bilang pambansang alegorya o pagtunghay sa tauhan bilang representasyon ng mamamayan at pagkamamamayanan sa kasalukuyang bansa. Kung dati ay ang historical na pagkasadlak sa kalabisang hindi nasarhan sa diktaduryang Marcos, ito ngayon ay pagninilay sa historical na sandal sa panahon ng pelikula at ang patuloy na gravitas ng panlipunang pwersang kumakalinga, nagpapatuloy at nagpapalawak sa pagdanas sa kahirapan, kawalan-katarungan, pandudusta sa representatibo ng mayoryang mamamayan—tauhan sa pelikula.

Politikal ang sining niya dahil kontraryo ito sa namamayaning produksyon at resepsyon ng sining. Mabagal pa rin (kumpara sa mas mabagal na pamumukadkad ng naratibo at filmikong stilo sa ikalawang yugto) ang kanyang pelikula pero may higit na pagtuon sa elaborasyon ng mga tauhan – mula sentral at ang pumapalibot na kanya sa loob ng pamayanan – na mas nahahabi ang relasyong panlipunan at historical tungo sa resolusyon ng naratibo at wakas ng pelikula.

Reflexibo ang sining ni Diaz dahil kahit may lalim at lawakang pagdanas sa historical at panlipunang pwersa ng mga tauhan sa kanilang diegetikong predikamento, may bigat dahil napipihit niya ang kanyang sining na may kontraryong pagmumundo lampas sa aktwal na mundo ng pagdanas ng mga tauhan. Pinapapasok niya ang maonood sa kanyang naratibo ng pelikula, isinasadlak din pero inaangat din tungo sa kontraryong pihit ng mundo.

Halaw daw sa realismong Ruso – na mas suspetsa ko aay sa experimental na realism ni Jose Rizal – ang naratibo sa yugstong ito ng sining ni Diaz. May susing pag-aaral sa mga individual na buhay ng mga tauhan at bakit sila nagpapakat, kung bakit ang kanilang pagsasama ay isang historical na overdeterminasyon, o walang ibang maaring pagpiliin kundi ang naitakdang ugnay ng mga aparatong politikal at kultural.

Isang pinarol na babaeng preso na bumalik sa kanyang bayan para maghiganti sa kanyang maling pagkakasakdal at pagkakulong, makikilala ang desperadong kubang magbabalot, ang baliw ng bayan, at ang transwoman nama’y neurological na sakit. Kalibrado ang paglalatag ng mga kwento ng tauhang magpapaigting at labnaw sa naratibong layon sa pelikula – ang paghihiganti ng maliit sa makapangyarihang politiko ng bayan.

Mas malikhain ang pagsisinsin ng ugnayang panlipunan at historical ng mga tauhan, at ang pag-uugnay at pagpapalawak ng mga konsepto ng katarungang panlipunan, kahirapan, redempsyon, at kawalan-pagtakas. Ang minumundo ni Diaz sa kanyang naratibo ay mga siyo, tauhan at panahong familiar sa atin pero dahil naging familiar ay hindi na natin natutunghayan bilang integral kundi bilang nasa likuran na lamang ng realidad. O ang familiar ay nagagawang di-familiar (defamiliar) ni Diaz para mag-pause muna tayo, mag-rebuff, at muling tumunghay sa realidad na gamit ang ibang lente ng pagtunghay.

Ang efekto ng sining ni Diaz ay sumasaklaw sa maraming antas. Sa filmikong antas, anng suong sa kontraryong daloy ng pelikula na nilalahukan ng kontraryong tauhan (anti-hero) bumabalikwas sa pang-araw-araw at historical na kaganapan sa kanyang buhay, gagmit ang kontraryong stilong pelikula. Sa pambansang alegoryang antas, ang produksyon ng kontraryong pagdanas sa isang pangkaraniwang kwento ng kontraryong tauhan at ang kontraryong kaganapan sa kanyang buhay na may gravitas ng pagsambit sa pamamagitan ng pagbubukas ng balong ng kahulugan sa kontraryong imahinasyon, pagbasa at pagdanas sa aktwal na kaganapan.

Sa pilosopikal na antas, mayaman ang paglalahad ng kaganapan at kabuuang realidad sa pelikula na kanyang ilatag ang pananaw ng direktor sa simbolismo pumapaimbalot sa kabuuan ng pelikula: nakakapagnilay ang pelikula sa konkretisasyon ng pagdanas sa phenomenon ng panahon, bansa, lipunan, kawalan-katarungan, kahirapan, katubusan, kawalan-pagtakas, pagkatao, katotohanan, kalayaan, autonomiya, at iba pa.

Natatangi si Diaz sa kanyang henerasyon dahil nananatiling umuunlad at umiigting ang kanyang sining, at ito ay magandang paroling gabay sa mga henerasyon ng direktor na sumunod sa kanya. Ang Babaeng Humayo ay payak na kwento pero pinapagyaman sa detalyeng nagsisilbing building blocks ng isang matikas, mayabong at malalim na pelikula.

At tulad sa mga naunang pelikula ni Diaz, maingat at malikhain ang pagbubuo ng solidong pelikula. Katangi-tangi ang sinematograpiya, production design, editing, sound (lalo na ang katahimikan), screenplay at pagganap. Payak din ang mga element pero may zen mode na kamit dahil may mataas na kalidad na nakakamit ang bawat isatungo sa mataas na pagkamit ng sining ng pelikula.

May word of caution lang ako sa ikatlong direksyon ng sining ni Diaz, at ito ang paggamit ng ikonikong bituin sa kanyang pelikula. Jarring ang dating at ang exposure ni Charo Santos sa pelikula at mga artista iyong bago rito. Hindi matanggal sa isip ng manonood kung sino ito sa labas ng pelikula at kung paano ito nananatiling kahalintulad na independent woman sa loob ng pelikula. Kahit pa may sandali sa pelikula na nagbabasa ang karakter ng sulat na gamit ang tono ng boses ni Santos sa kanyang palabas sa telebisyon.

Umangat si John Lloyd Cruz sa pagganap bilang transwoman dahil na rin ito ay si Cruz na ikonikong bituin. Na malamang ay iba ang pagtatangi kumpara sa marami pang ibang artistang may markadong papel sa mga pelikula ni Diaz, halimbawa, si Karenina Haniel na fantastiko ang pagganap bilang nakababatang kapatid na may mental illness sa Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon.

Masaya ako sa ikatlong yuto ng sining ni Diaz, at ang kontradiksyong nabubuo at umuunlad sa yugtong ito ang magpapasibol ng susunod na yugto niya. Natatangi ang kanyang sining dahil nakaugat ito sa historical at panlipunang realidad ng bansa sa stilong kontraryo sa namamayaning pelikula, na lohikal na nagpapatangi rin kay Diaz sa labas ng bansa: dahil may bago at natatanging paraan ng pagsasapelikula.

ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (2016) Direction and Screenplay LAV DIAZ; Production Design POPO DIAZ; Cinematography and Editing  LAV DIAZ; Sound MARK LOCSIN, CORINNE DE SAN JOSE; Cast CHARO SANTOS (Horacia), JOHN LLOYD CRUZ (Hollanda) NONIE BUENCAMINO (balut vendor), MICHAEL DE MESA (Rodrigo Trinidad), SHAMAINE BUENCAMINO (Petra), MAE PANER) Produced by FILMS BOUTIQUE, CINE OLIVIA PILIPINAS, CINEMA ONE ORIGINALS; Black & White/ Running Time 3:48 Hours

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