Movie Review

Review: Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis

I think I was successfully seduced by the concept of this film because of my Heneral Luna and Honor Thy Father feelings. I was carefully excited for the experience, aware that more than the cost of the ticket (P500 in Glorietta, twice the price of a regular two-hour flick), the bigger gamble was the opportunity cost of my time and energy. A whole work day’s worth of time and energy, to be precise.

After eight hours and two 20-minute breaks in between, I came out of the theater with sore limbs and a mind that felt like it was instructed to run a distance it wasn’t quite ready for. Did I think the film was worth it? Yes. Do I fully understand why? Not yet. Maybe I never will. Maybe that’s the magic of that film.

I try to articulate more of my thoughts and feelings below:

  • It made me want to revisit Rizal‘s Noli Me Tangere and El FilibusterismoPiolo Pascual played Ibarra/Simoun, while John Lloyd Cruz was Isagani. I had to grasp at scraps of my high school Filipino and Kasaysayan memories, trying to piece their backstory together. But my incomplete recollections didn’t keep me from enjoying Piolo and JLC’s performance. They were charismatic onscreen, per their usual, specially when they’re sharing scenes.
  • I got my sister to watch this epic with me by baiting her with the Andres Bonifacio/Gregoria De Jesus half of the plot. This slice of the film reminded me of two things–one, I need to reread history, and two, I hate the guts of my five-peso coins.
  • There were hardly any close-ups, which said something about how great the performance of the cast was. Also, the movie was shot entirely in black and white, and it was hauntingly beautiful. There was one time we were made to stare at a black-and-white shot of a burning village. Five minutes of flames dancing around straws and kindle, in monochrome, and I happily watched it. Gorgeous cinematography.
  • Ely Buendia was there! How come no one mentioned this? Was this meant to be a secret surprise? He opens the movie with his face in half-shadow, writing a letter, and speaking in a voice over. I didn’t realize it was him until he moved. Of course he got to play an acoustic guitar and sing, and his voice is cool like rain. I don’t get to hear his voice like that in Eraserheads songs. It’s a good serenade voice. In the movie though, he still moved with that decidedly modern, rock star swagger that felt out of place. So I kept being reminded that yep, that’s not just any musikero (as he is called in the credits)–that’s Ely Buendia.

Overall it was like eight hours of being told to sit down and look at a painting. You stare at the painting because it’s beautiful and it speaks to you. Sometimes you feel the long minutes drag by as you look at it, sometimes you don’t. Then you’re shown a new painting, and you stare at it again, absorb what you can from it again.

More than a movie, Hele felt like 8 hours of art and history appreciation. It wasn’t intense the way Heneral Luna and Honor Thy Father were. Those two films had their own unique ways of getting under the skin and keeping the audience on the edge. Hele showed a only few gunshots and hardly any violence, at least none of the visually morbid kind. But it was intense in the level of concentration and attention it required from its audience, and passion too, for the topics, the sceneries, the art of it all. A lot, if not all of the scenes were extended past the last word of dialogue, maybe to give time for the audience to ponder, or just time to marvel at the beauty of the shot.

I wonder if creator Lav Diaz sincerely thought that his film had enough pomp and allure to keep his audience’s mind from wandering out into the full-color world outside the theater. Or if he had accepted that as an unavoidable evil and still decided to keep his creation as it is. He obviously had a lot of things to say, about history, about brotherhood and friendship, blood and sacrifice, about truth, love and hatred in its many forms, about God and religion, circumstances and consequences. About freedom, and what that means in the context of time and space.

I wonder if his goal was clarity of discourse, or discourse for the sake of it. It’s been weeks since I’ve seen the film, and still I’m unsure. Maybe that’s just it—that the film wasn’t made to preach truths, but to get people thinking, to get them out of the usual alleys of their humdrum thoughts. In that effect, and in the film’s value as art to be experienced and admired, Hele has certainly succeeded.

P.S. I should stop calling these things reviews, because they read more like reflection papers. Oh well.

Photo credits to Rappler article.


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