Monday, August 17, 2015

AN KUBO SA KAWAYANAN (Alvin Yapan, 2015)






Every filmmaker of note seems haunted by its specter: the nostalgia for our nation's lost origins. What they, and perhaps each of us, seek, however, isn't dissimilar from a Derridean trace, a reference to the past that seems elusive, ill-defined and indeterminate, "a mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present." Yet our historicist and history-conscious filmmakers persist. In Kidlat Tahimik’s “Why Is Yellow The Middle of The Rainbow?” the director-narrator recognizes the virtues of the Native American shaman and brings him to an apotheosis as an ideal parallel to our own babaylan, our own bygone version of the seer and miracle-worker. In the cinematic corpus of Auraeus Solito, it is the babaylan of Palawan that serves as the conduit of old, healing wisdom. In Kristian Sendon Cordero's "Angustia," a heroic Bicolano shaman is placed in favorable relief against a headlong Spanish man of religion. Meanwhile Lav Diaz's expansive explorations of the so-called Malay time are hypostatized examples resulting from a yearning for idealized roots. In "Todo Todo Teros," John Torres lends the soapbox for Diaz to expound on what he had read of Pigafetta's famous chronicles of Magellan's expedition, in particular the accounts of Cebu, detailing the natives' cultural precocities. Even in the already postmodern phase of his mature work, Raya Martin invokes precolonial nativism as a life-saving, albeit superstitious, talisman that finds expression in such works as "Independencia" and "How to Disappear Completely."

The attempt to locate the ideal historical substrate for our vanished civilization and culture, the attempt to retrieve it, can be vaguely read into Alvin Yapan’s latest work. As in many films that take this route, there is a crypto-mystical tonality to the proceedings. In "An Kubo Sa Kawayanan," the bamboo house seems alive, surrounded by woods also stirring with strange, enchanted animals and insects. And the inhabitant of this hut, a kind of hermit, has turned inward in the hut's solitude, in her quasi-schizophrenic state. (She speaks to herself, perhaps in response to all the decoded flows of labor, capital, and commodities that encircle her: the lure of technology, the lure of jobs, the lure of the city and the world.) The hut seems to know the past as much as the future: how its stairs begin to creak as if to forewarn its tenant of threat and danger. How it appears to tell the hermit in dreams what is about to unfold.

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard writes: “The hermit’s hut is a theme which needs no variations, for at the simplest mention of it, “phenomenological reverberation” obliterates all mediocre resonances… Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb “to inhabit.” “ Yapan's hut is indeed surrounded by breathtaking solitude and enchantment, but it cannot hide itself as a rickety structure, a site of decay. Yet it seems to serve its sentinel as an oracular house that imparts wisdom and admonition – it communicates with her -- and extending the hut as a metaphor of immensity and cosmicity, it might be the Filipino's larger habitation. Time and place. History.

Our enchanted, indigenous history, then, as hopelessly propped up by its last, steadfast tenant. Although the hut seems structurally unsound, and perhaps untenable, Yapan constructs his locus-of-hut-as-history with something endemic, resilient and pliant: the bamboo. How he frames the primeval grass with lyricism: how it rustles and sways in the winds. How it is buoyant in water. And in seeming contradistinction, Yapan intercuts these bucolic images with those of mammoth ships, presumably of global trade and commerce. Side by side, the bamboo seems valorized, quixotically so: that matrix of our folklore, of our creation myths, from which our first man and woman emerged (i.e. Malakas and Maganda). And the mystical bamboo hut with its enchanted milieu speaks like the old wisdom it evokes.

If the hermit’s hut and its vicinity stand for precoloniality or that so-called idealized past, Yapan, however, seems confined, mostly, to mythopoetic gestures inscribed on the terrain of global and domestic conjunctures (Yapan has mined this vein of postcoloniality and globalization before in films like "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" and "Debosyon"). Little here, it seems, can be offered on how the course of history will have to change. If Yapan views the past with idealism, it is almost perhaps as an automatic reflex to invoke the "unalloyed" past. For where to locate our vanished origins, the “arche,” the beginning? It would be ridiculous to subscribe to the nostalgia of Levi-Strauss, who rhapsodized how man should revert to a savage/precultural stage of anthropological development. History is after all contingent and aleatory and not trapped in describing circles, let alone in primitive temporality. What lies ahead can thus not be determined in advance. Nonetheless we must not lack historical perspective -- that history is not a smooth continuum, but composed of ruptures and breaks. Instead of mystifying the originary past, we must nurture an appreciation of history that enjoins a development of a philosophy of resistance, whether materialist or not, one that can challenge a faulty status quo, whether with a syncretic horizon or not, and offer the possibility of a genuine and significant change.

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