The Critics Loved Ang Panahon ng Halimaw. Will We?
“Experimental,” “emotionally resonant,” “bold,” “angry and intense”
Earlier this year, Lav Diaz premiered his newest piece, Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, at the Berlin International Film Festival. Stretching four-hours long and set in Martial Law Philippines, the monochrome “rock opera” debuted to rave reviews. International publications spoke about it, critics were generous with the love and local stations picked up on the praise and spread it on low heat.
But right here in the Philippines—in the land of Vice Ganda, Kris Aquino and Coco Martin; where the story is set and whose history the film is based on—will the flame combust into fire? Or will it vanish and drown amidst retold love stories and half-white actors?
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“It’s visually that Season of the Devil ranks among Diaz’s best work”
—Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter
“It’s a film of boldness and considerable beauty”
—Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily
SEASON OF THE DEVIL (Lav Diaz): Imperfect but transcendent. The strongest of his recent work and certainly the most emotionally resonant. Crossing my fingers for more musicals. Was not expecting the singing to match what he’s doing so perfectly (and devastatingly) #Berlinale2018
— Adam Cook (@AdamCook) February 20, 2018
The story follows Lorena (Shaina Magdayao), a young doctor who starts her practice in a remote village in the Philippines. After she disappears, her poet/activist/teacher husband, Hugo (Piolo Pascual), searches for her.
Sounds simple and unworthy of a four-hour narrative? There are, of course, complications to counter this theory. It’s set in the 1970s, with Martial Law and uniformed men abound, which means battle under the course of the night and human rights-less locals. And there is the fact that dialogue is sung instead of spoken—which undoubtedly stretched the screen time as well.
Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is political at its core. And unlike Diaz’s previous works of art, the symbolism is more in your face and less… well, symbolic. Instead of considering the possibilities, you hear it in the songs (or read it in the subtitles). Instead of one character representing a mysterious other, you get the mirror in the position: A dictator is a dictator, armed men are armed men and helpless casualties are helpless casualties.
The film purposes a jarring mirror to our country’s present state.
Like most of his work, Diaz expects his audience to have some grasp of Philippine history—a history that some of us think we know and some of us can’t seem to forget. But as artistic and as experimental as it is, there are some real factors that will hurt it in hitting big numbers in the mainstream.
The 234-minute run time of the movie is one thing, but it’s also an instrument-less and virtually melody-less musical as well. And its Martial Law premise is something everyone has an opinion on. It is, by far, difficult to digest, but the lot of us are always demanding something different, aren’t we?
This is what we asked for (and didn’t ask for). Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is as different as they come. You say you want unique? You say you’re hungry for the unseen? Get your appetite ready, because Ang Panahon ng Halimaw premieres May 30th.
Art Alexandra Lara