četvrtak, 19. rujna 2013.

Raya Martin - Buenas noches, España (2011)

Filipinska budućnost svjetskog filma.
Psihodelično putovanje kroz vrijeme pomoću televizora, ljubavna priča povezana vremenskom drogom od 16. stoljeća do danas.

Raya Martin's "Buenas noches, España"
We're very excited to be exclusively presenting the online premiere of Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin's delirious, flagrantly experimental, lovingly conceived and inventively spun feature from 2011, Buenas noches, España.
In another lifetime, a Spanish couple takes drugs and teleports through their television set. A troubled young man travels through the countryside and meets a lost woman. During the trip, they discover a museum housing the expatriated paintings of the most important Filipino artist of the revolution. Eventually, the Spanish couple disappears toward their colony. Inspired by one of the earliest teleportation accounts, which happened between the Philippines and Mexico during the colonial period.  
Love and revolution in Raya Martin's Buenas Noches, España
by Phil Coldiron 

"Do not forget those that have fallen during the night." — José Rizal, Noli Me Tángere

The entire project of Buenas Noches, España is nicely stated in the relationship between the above quotation, which is the final line of the film's epigraph, and its opening shot, an extended optical movement that brings a couch-bound couple from the horizon of the image to its center, as they revel in the glow of their television and huff down drugs and junk food. There's an uneasy tension between the words of a revolutionary poet and this portrait of privileged slackerdom at its most aloof, and it would be pretty easy to imagine the two coming together to form a cheap, defeatist irony: where once the night took the soldiers of the revolution, now it only claims those with enough weed to be drawn to QVC.
This, fortunately, bears no relation to what Raya Martin is actually after. Rather, our couch potatoes, Pilar López de Ayala and Andrés Gertrúdix, find themselves falling very literally into another space and another time—they are, in their own way, the continuation of the leap taken by the subjunctive Katipunero at the end of Independencia, who chooses the chance of a jump off a cliff over a life of subjugation. Formally, the optical movement that begins the film also recalls "Enduring Freedom"—Martin's pick for the Moment of 2011 in this publication's recent survey—which condenses America as a self-perpetuating frame opening onto itself, deploying the illusion of progress to keep its subjects transfixed; Martin makes use of a comparable vector as a real means of getting somewhere. As the image grows in size, there's a transmission of information both narrative (the introduction of the film's sole characters) and formal (the color-filter-as-TV-glow prefigures the heavy, archaic use of filters throughout; the situation of these two in an optical netherworld where time and space no longer work in ways that we're used to neatly defines what will become an increasingly messy relationship to both). After nearly five minutes of slow-crawl zoom, the couple finally fills the 4:3 frame and a title card in a cheesy retro font appears accompanied by the sound of a sitcom laugh track, the first of a number of odd aural intrusions in this silent—that is, without dialogue, as it features nearly wall-to-wall music—film.
The screen flashes to a blue-filtered image from inside a car on a country road; then, it becomes yellow as a pair of hands reach out from the back seat to cover the driver's eyes: the basic integers of Martin's algebraic montage are in place. He is blue. She is yellow. These are the stoners from the couch, now existing in a time-space where events exist as parts of a closed set to be cycled through indefinitely, each image no longer under the sway of the logic that says, for example, that if a woman is already in a car she cannot also be standing on the side of the road waiting to be picked up.
Buenas noches, España
Buenas noches, España
After several minutes of cycling through recurring images—shots through the front windshield, of López de Ayala asleep in the back seat, of Gertrúdix's wonderfully classical profile as he drives—the first function occurs: He and She come together under a green filter. As the lovers continue their reveries, frolicking around the Spanish countryside before eventually finding their way to Bilbao's Museum of Fine Arts, Martin modulates their romantic algebra, cutting rhythmically among yellow, blue, and green, and adding in red (pure love? a feeling that transcends the simple synthesis of man and woman?), black and white (a sort of neutral control), and negative images (both in high contrast black and white, providing a link to Martin's 2011 short Ars Colonia, which hinges between representation and abstraction on the shift to a negative image, and in filtered shots, wherein He becomes yellow and She blue, a confirmation of their fundamental relationship: the lovers are literally each other's negative image). By defining their relationship through this visual math, Martin leaves the two free from any constricting ideas of character or narrative, which results in a portrait of two people in love that looks and feels more like actual love than any relationship Hollywood has managed to put together so far this century.
Buenas noches, España
Buenas noches, España
This triumph of discursiveness over narrative logic not only allows for an accurate portrayal of romance, it affords the full expression of a worldview that points toward the possibility for real political action. As López de Ayala and Gertrúdix cavort through the Museum of Fine Arts, pulling faces and goofing off, their relationship toward art manifests itself: these paintings and sculptures are nothing more or less than history, which isn't in and of itself worthy of the slightest respect. Only when they encounter three paintings by 19th-century Filipino expatriate Juan Luna—"The Blacksmiths," "Market, Portugalete," and "The Death of Cleopatra"—do they suddenly become reverent, and the film follows suit, dropping its Looney Tunes sound effects and restless camera to calmly, quietly study both the paintings and the lovers' reactions. While Luna's paintings are undoubtedly powerful images, they seem no more so than any of the dozens of works previously treated with considerably less than the utmost respect. Perhaps, then, their effect owes to the peculiar place these lovers have fallen into, which is, in short, the cinema: for here, not only do images repeat, but they also become one with their own negative, the layering of negative and positive bringing together both disparate temporal registers and unique material objects in space. And so the lovers have become, like the revolutionary Luna (and also Rizal), individuals removed from space and time, set down in a world where neither the past nor the future is off limits. The ghost of Spain's colonial heritage comes to life for these young Spaniards as a fact in the present tense, which means that the power of those who opposed it presents itself as a viable option as well. Just as love was freed from the ridiculous confines of narrative, so too is the possibility for revolutionary activity freed from the coffin of history and the exile of the future.
Now vibrating on the wavelength of an art that transcends the space-time of history, the lovers are truly free, which leads them to do what anyone would do in their shoes: indulge in a little teleportation (the film was inspired in part by a reported case of teleportation from Manila to Mexico City in 1593). As they journey, perhaps to the moon—as one of the few intertitles implies in a reference to Méliès's seminal work—the film ends with the lunar as well: over five rich minutes, an animated moon (which could also be the negative image of the sun) sets amid a white haze. The movement in conceptual space of the opening is matched by a vision of pure duration, pure experience: as the lovers found both the means to express their love and to find political agency through cinema, Martin offers us a way in as well, through the pleasures of his film, whether the beauty in time of this closing shot, the looks of joy on López de Ayala's magnificent face, or the richness of his colors and rhythms. Overcoming time and space must remain cinema's victory for now, but the blueprint for throwing off the shackles of narrative to redeem love and revolution in the present is available to anyone with eyes. This, it seems to me, is the future of political cinema.
Separation of the Critic - A Trip with Raya Martin + Buenas noches, España

The title card's 'Voyage to the Luna' is both a reference to the French silent film pioneer, magician and proto-maximalist Georges Méliès, and to the revolutionary Philippine 19th century painter Juan Luna. But apart from that, the style is Raya Martin's very own. Or, rather: the dialogue-free and neo-psychedelic time travel / love story, which starts in colonial Philippines at the end of the 16th century and zigzags to today, where it begins in the company of a young couple in front of a TV, in fact represents (yet) another expansion of the young director's filmic universe. 'Buenas Noches, Espana' is, in other words, Raya Martin's most trippy film to date. Perhaps it is also his most immediately accessible one? In any case, there is no reason to panic if conventional logic proves inadequate when faced with the maximalistic bombardment of digital colours and a massive sound design, that meet the eyes and ears. As a supporting film, we will show an unconventional (and incredibly funny) interview with Raya about his modern sources of inspiration from 'The Blair Witch Project' to 'Cloverfield', and about turning the filmmaking tradition against oneself. - www.cphdox.dk/

The First Impulse: Love and the unknowable in the films of Raya Martin

by Phil Coldiron  

"The first impulse is always one of love." —Alexis Tioseco

It is occasionally impossible to begin things in any way but the wrong one.
I never knew Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. At the time of their murder I knew nothing of Nika's work (I still know too little), only a bit of Alexis's—I believe I'd read "The Letter I Would Love to Read to You in Person," though perhaps not, that may have come later too. (About it, I'll only say that I'm in full agreement with Gabe Klinger in the belief that it's "a canonical piece of critical writing.") In the wave of remembrances that came in from around the world following their deaths, I saw in them the full expression of ideas about cinema, and about life, that I had only vague impressions of at the time. Over these three years, and I hope you'll forgive me for being somewhat presumptuous, a sadness has grown in me for these two friends I'll never have. In idle moments sometimes I find myself thinking about them, wondering what their days were like, how they handled not only the torrent of love between them, but also their tremendous love for cinema, whether or not they watched silly television shows on the couch at night. And the terror of those last minutes, seconds, together. Would this week, on the happy occasion of the first New York retrospective for Raya Martin, a director Alexis championed before nearly anyone else, have been the first time I would have met them?
A love for what is eternally unknown seems about as good a working definition of the cinema as I can figure, so with that, Alexis, Nika, I love you both.
Serge Daney
"You don't need to see films to love cinema." —Leos Carax

It's awfully easy, as an American, to take history for granted. Our young country seems to have just enough of it that what's there in the official version feels full: the calendar has plenty of holidays; the schoolbooks have plenty of dates; we have a whole television station just for it. This luxury, which also happens to be the luxury of having been on the receiving end of oppression for only the briefest time, means that certain events—say, the Philippine-American War (1899–1902)—can casually be forgotten when they don't assimilate neatly into a narrative of valor and general moral good.
This tendency to cherry-pick the history we'd like sidles up alongside another great American tradition: the movies. Whether or not you buy the Deleuzo-Godardian notion of Hollywood as a factory cranking out an imperialist army of histories to cover its, and our, own lack of one, this process has congealed to the point that Hollywood now does have some kind of history, one that's also full enough to allow its present to pick and choose its continuities. For multinational corporate-industrialist Hollywood, this means that stories and resolution are in, and the mysterious complexity of the world is out. Go to any major film school in this country and you'll hear the same bromides about "connecting with audiences" alternating with praise for the relentless forward march of technology, ever smaller, ever cheaper. The platonic ideal here is a film that costs nothing and wins over audiences so thoroughly that they simply can't resist giving it every last cent in their bank accounts. The history of cinema exists only as an object defined in negative; young filmmakers should watch Griffith to find a few parts to improve upon, and the rest can be cast away as obsolete.
Serge Daney
A Short Film About the Indio Nacional
Raya Martin is one of cinema's great hopes against this blind movement forward. In the eight years since he began his career, he's made nearly 20 films of a wide variety of lengths and styles, united only by a consistent concern with diving, stumbling, or running back into the past. Against the usual approach of looking back for either narrative forms or just simply narratives (i.e., the full being of history reduced to stories that can be retold; this is generally the American way), Martin's films engage the past creatively, finding in it spaces still waiting to be filled. When he made a silent film (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional) in 2006—one completely free of gimmicks, that feels no need to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, what it is—he did something quite astonishing. He created a historical film that simultaneously occupies two positions 110 years apart, one looking back from 2006, the other looking forward from the Philippine Revolution of 1896. In a country where little of its earliest cinema survives (the Philippines finally began a national film archive only last year), Indio Nacional reconstitutes a history that has been lost, or perhaps never was. Although the allegorical story of a boy, an old man, and a heavy burden offered by the contemporary prologue, shot in color digital video in contrast to the silent footage's black-and-white 35mm, offers something of a framework, the film functions not as a conduit for the transmission of narrative knowledge, but simply confirms events, bodies, desires.
This sense that cinema is, after Rivette, not a language after all—its true use is in showing the unity of the world, not in analyzing it—informs Martin's work from the beginning. The Island at the End of the World, his first feature, explores Itbayat, a secluded island in the north of the Philippines, with great thoroughness but never moves beyond the initial impulse of curiosity to offer any facet of the island as an argument about the world. Itbayat and its people are shown as they are, building boats, working in fields and libraries, fishing, etc. What is communicated by these images? Nothing, I would argue, more or less than the impulse of love, a genuine desire to explore that which is unknown, shot through with a humble understanding that the only way to really know these lives is to live them. If we can accept this thoughtful desire as the heart of the cinema, then of course you don't need to watch films to love cinema.
Up against the many, many films that are totally devoid of cinema-image after image with nothing there—each of Martin's films stakes this perspective on its topic. In the opaque historical drama Autohystoria the murder of two Filipino rebels is refigured as an experience in duration and looking, attentiveness to urban spaces linked to attentiveness to history. Independencia recreates another lost period, the early, artificial talking adventure film, exploring the process of combining popular filmmaking with revolutionary messages. In these films—and in Buenos Noches, España's infinite, recursive loop of love in space and out of time—there is a commitment to exploring something fundamentally impossible to fully know without betraying that impossibility in the slightest. This tendency in Martin's filmmaking reaches a new peak with this year's The Great Cinema Party, a 70-minute feature made as part of the Jeonju Film Festival's Digital Project.
Awarded $50,000 and carte blanche beyond the requirement of shooting on digital video, Martin created what on first look seems to be his simplest film since his debut, an uneven diptych composed of a collage and a sort of low-key hang-out documentary. This relatively straightforward presentation turns out to mask a conceptual framework as rigorous and inventive as anything in his career, an attempt at synthesizing Rivette's disavowal of cinema as a language with Bazin's assertion of it as such. (When Lav Diaz pops up at the junction between the film's two parts to invite us to The Great Cinema Party—which, n.b., is literally a party, with guests including filmmakers Brillante Mendoza and John Torres and critics Mark Peranson and Antoine Thirion wandering an island on Manila Bay before settling down for a cookout—the two guests mentioned by name are Bazin and Andrei Tarkovsky.) That is, The Great Cinema Party is an attempt to figure out in 70 minutes where exactly the limits of cinema sit, and just what we might mean when we say that it is or isn't a language.
Serge Daney
The Island at the End of the World
In a perceptive article on the film for Cinema Scope, Michael Sicinski has traced a line that connects its two halves via their relations to conflict, and followed this to pose two basic questions: Does the appositeness of the motion picture for showing images of war make wars in some way a continual source of "worthy profilmic events"? And might images of boredom, or pleasure (these being taken as more or less synonymous with images of boredom in traditional filmmaking), such as those in The Great Cinema Party, serve as the greatest source of resistance in this filmic economy? I am inclined to answer yes to both questions, and to believe that this alone makes GCP one of the genuinely important films of the year, but I also believe it can be followed to a more basic understanding of human engagement with the world, one that subtends even the ideas regarding conflict that Sicinski maps so well.
I was slightly inaccurate in describing the film as a diptych above—in fact the second half itself divides in two, the lengthy segment following the guests as they explore the island and enjoy the cookout giving way to nearly 20 minutes of pure black accompanied by "The Great Cinema Overture," a piece of triumphant post-rock (think Godspeed You! Black Emperor) that constitutes probably the only example of this type of music actually being used well in a film. In these three segments—images of war, images of pleasure, absence of the image—we're offered three different opportunities to consider what is, or isn't, being communicated.
The opening montage, with its images of war first cropped down to widescreen to match the Scope aspect ratio of the original footage and then subjected to various other manipulations, including being slowed down, reversed, and turned to negatives, recalls more than slightly the recent collage work of Jean-Luc Godard. But where Godard's collisions inevitably result in wreckage that points elsewhere (this is, after all, the man whose greatest work bears the title Histoire(s)), Martin presents his troops and bombers and boats and ruins as objects free of context, studies in geometry and movement testifying to the fact that these things happened while refusing to offer any further explanation. Individually, and in concert, they prove as terribly, viscerally captivating as they are inadequate: what can these tell about the horror that we're seeing other than confirming that it existed, placing it as a historical fact? In this light, it's only logical that we have still never seen any footage shot inside the concentration camps. It's impossible to reduce six million deaths to a historical fact—the cinema, when it runs up against what it cannot hope to express, has the good sense to let that absence speak for itself.
The second segment, in following the partygoers as they talk and laugh and experience this new place, counterbalances the opening, scaling global catastrophe down to personal communication. Here, the fact of just being seems adequate; history functions at a scale that allows for an expression closer to the reality of the situation. What's here, as in The Island at the End of the World, cannot truly be known, but the information that might be taken from such a cinematic engagement communicates more than any mass image of war because it's not beholden to any inevitably obfuscating global narrative. Martin and his cinematographer Gym Lumbera (the duo have recently completed an installation piece that will be on display at the Museum during the retrospective) have found an ideal visual representation of this mixture of clarity and uncertainty: shooting with an old anamorphic widescreen lens on a digital camera, every image captures the objects at its center with great clarity while still pointing toward the hazy, distorted expanse at the edges of each frame.
The darkness that closes the film resolves the prior two segments: the importance of cinema's inability to truly capture an image of war and its ability to express something of the mystery of the everyday mesh in the darkness, the image conceding its representational inadequacy to transmit something ineffable, the uncertainty of being alone with ourselves and our senses, but surrounded by others experiencing the same feeling, that the cinema alone can offer us. The soundtrack's triumphant crescendos are no less manipulative here than they are in guiding us toward the emotion of athletic thrills in Friday Night Lights. But the difference is that they're celebrating our own acknowledgment of sensing the world, of feeling the dark with our eyes and knowing how many things are out there waiting for us to find them, not through a cinema screen (which might serve as a good starting point yet won't ever go further) but through our own impulse of love, this desire to know all those things that are unknowable.
I'd like to end with what is not at all a rhetorical question: How can cinema be dying, or dead, when one of the great directors in the world hasn't even hit 30 yet?


Raya Martin and His Visions of Postcolonial Realities

Above: Raya Martin. Photo by Buccino de Ocampo.
Raya Martin’s multiplicity as a key filmmaker in experimental cinema in the Philippines remains a complex subject to undertake. His radical and polarizing films earned him not only a reputation as a visionary of the film form, but also a mask of an aesthete, an art-for-art’s sake director detached from the social paradigm of Philippine cinema. These assertions led me to reassess Raya Martin’s career path to look into his films in terms of his varied style, his appropriations as a result of his post-colonial inquiries; and to position him within the ideological paradigm of Philippine cinema.
Raya Martin’s filmography can be divided into three modes based on style: documentary (Island at the End of the World [2004], Autohystoria [2007], Next Attraction [2008] and Now Showing [2008]], filmic (A Short Film About Indio Nacional [2005], Long Live Philippine Cinema! [2007], and Independencia [2009]), and abstract (Track Projections [2007], Ars Colonia [2011] and Buenas Noches Espana [2011]). This categorization facilitates a thorough elucidation of Raya Martin’s motivations for his highly experimental methods which others may find hard to break through.

Above: Island at the End of the World.
Martin’s documentary mode in filmmaking originated from his experiments with Island at the End of World. Island is Martin’s most geopolitically rooted film in his oeuvre. It explores the marginalized community of the Itbayat, an indigenous group located in the northernmost part of the Philippines. Martin’s nonintrusive style in recording their way of life is reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami’s realism wherein the camera is at its most humanistic position, illuminating the frailties of human life and the universal truths embedded within it. This allows Martin to paint a seagoing village detached from the modern world, yet suffering from the institutional repression experienced by most marginalized communities in the Philippines.

Above: Island at the End of the World.
Island also introduced Raya Martin’s interest in post-colonial inquiry as he highlighted the people’s recollection of their land during the Spanish occupation, their culture of siesta, their problems with land ownership, and their Catholicism as central veins in their culture. The Itbayat community is predominantly composed of old people drawn towards old beliefs, whose women are terrorized by their drunken husbands. What is perhaps most striking in the film is Martin’s interest to the intellectual culture of the region. The talk with the librarian and the postman gave an insight into the isolation of the region; their culture of book lending, and the many political aspects about the government presence in the region. Island would be the first time Martin ended a film with poetic overtures using shots from nature, a method which he would repeat in his other films. These overtures are Martin’s way of synthesizing and condensing the density of his images. It re-situates the viewers to the familiar scenes of the everyday life, and returns them to the photographic source of the image.

Above:  Autohystoria.
The aesthetics of Island at the End of World (Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo) would later be replicated in Martin's three other documentary films and, to a certain extent, in the first half of A Short Film About Indio Nacional, with Autohystoria as the diametrical opposite of Island in terms of its use of camera. Autohystoria somewhat connects aesthetically to Island because of its identifying mark as a realist-motivated film. But its use of camera is very non-humanistic: stalking the subject, trapping the subject in its frames, and killing the subject in the end. It is a highly modernist film, yet it lacks the multiplicity of its subject matter that Island has. It somehow only alludes conceptually to its subject matter, the Bonifacio brothers—making it a conceptual film—and reasserts the significance and political dimension of other filmic elements such as the space, the film camera, and film sound. In Island, the multiplicity of Martin's subject, the Itbayat, allows him to use the documentary style to paint a community. In this manner, it embeds the film within the mass-based dimension of Philippine cinema. In Autohystoria, the documentary style is detached from the social sphere, limiting its social embedding. Autohystoria’s monotonic view of the ebb and flow of the cosmopolitan space can be viewed in solidarity with the many avant-garde films about conceiving the sense of place of a city. The alienating location of the road, the bustling cars, the cemented walls of the building facades that are all products of the cosmopolitan vein of Manila’s city culture, shape the spatial dimension of the film's opening. Autohystoria houses monotony in such a way that the process elucidates questions about the possible extensions of urban space to cinema and also the extension of the urban space to the revolutionary consciousness of its people.

Above: Autohystoria.
The film’s political reference—the killing of Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio Bonifacio, both historical figures of the armed revolution in the 1890s Philippines—enlarges Autohystoria’s dimension from a mere exploration of urban space to the reassessment of the past and present revolutions. The prominent positioning of a famous high tower monument, which contains the figures of Andres Bonifacio and the 1890s revolutionary front, surrounded by a highly urbanized space, alludes to the current revolutionary landscape in the Philippines. It shows of how modernity traps the ideological consciousness within the circularity and redundancy of urban life. The offensive positioning of the camera in the latter part of the film gives a sense of the visual media can terrorize new revolutionaries to a fault. The movement from the city to the forest at the end of the film retells the usual tale of contemporary leftists taken hostage in the city to be killed in rural areas, which is integral to Autohystoria’s political layer.

Above: Next Attraction.
The conceptual fabrication of history, the revolutions, and its many tangents in Autohystoria appears very differently in his two films: Next Attraction and Now Showing. Next Attraction was made in the documentary vein of Autohystoria and Island at the End of the World. What is different about Next Attraction is that, instead of distilling ideas about the revolutions and its perplexing histories, it rediscovers the dichotomous concept of filmic and the non-filmic processes and places both practices in the hierarchy of contemporary Philippine cinema. The active use of digital camera in the film, which documents the behind the scenes of a fictitious film production that uses a 16mm Arri camera, assimilates two modes of filmmaking practice in the Philippines: the traditional celluloid cinema and the digital cinema. Next Attraction somewhat gives importance on the role of each camera in the exposition of truth and in the creation of an economic divide between two practices. The BTS (Behind the Scenes) camera, or the digital one, records the activities of the film production with an observational eye reflective of current social-realist filmmaking practices in the country. Its use of social realism raises a deconstructing gaze to the illusory grasp of the 16mm tradition predominantly used in commercial studios in the country. The restrictions in the 16mm film production—its intricate demands in film stock technology and also its high requirement for manpower as observed in the film—give it a limitation to record reality, and above all, to expose the truth. The digital camera records these elements more freely and with very few restrictions, thereby positioning it higher in the hierarchy of independent cinema in the Philippines.

Above: Now Showing.
These allusion-based and conceptual assertions of the film camera and the filmmaking traditions in Philippine cinema in Next Attraction would then be expanded in Raya Martin’s magnum opus, Now Showing. It is a five-hour film about a coming-of-age story of young girl living in Manila divided into three epochs or modes of filmmaking: the 1950s, the 1990s, and the mid-2000s. Its documentary style is uniquely periodized and highly observational. What separates Now Showing from the other three films is Martin’s intent to define each epoch with a stylized use of the camera, illuminating the differences in its milieu. It traces the development of filmmaking practice from amateur to skilled parallel to the development of Rita, the main character, from her innocent childhood to her sexual awakening during her late teens. This embeds the film in a society of transformation. Martin’s use of found footage in the middle part of the film, a film by Octavio Silos entitled Tunay na Ina (1939), alludes to the inaccessibility of today’s film culture to that lost era in the past.
The distinctive documentary style of Now Showing, which borders on appearing like home video movies, achieves a startling picture of how realism can be situated within the everyday. In his three films, A Short Film about the Indio Nacional, Long Live Philippine Cinema, and Independencia, Raya uses the filmic mode characterized by his use of drama to create a fictional world appropriated from the colonial past. With the exception of Long Live Philippine Cinema, a comedic critique of the current commercial cinema in the Philippines, this mode can be viewed as his re-connection with traditional cinema. His usage of all the elements in filmmaking creates a tapestry of the two historical epochs of revolutions: the 1898 revolution against the Spanish in Indio Nacional, and the 1930s resistance to American imperialists in Independencia.

Above: A Short Film About the Indio Nacional.
In Short Film about the Indio Nacional, the enigma is about the origins of the revolutionary consciousness of three entities: a young bell ringer who witnessed an eclipse, a young Katipunero (or revolutionary) who got sick, and an actor who refused to leave town and witnesses the falling of stars from the sky. Indio Nacional opens with a woman waking up from slumber next to her husband. The scene, shot in a long take form, plays on the documentary layer of Martin’s other works. Her husband wakes up and tells the woman a story about a boy and an old man alluding to the present-day problems of Philippine society: a struggling post-colonial country with a dismal political landscape of “false leaders who pretended to know the law.” The man's story ends with a succinct note: “Not all people are asleep during the time of our forefathers.” The film then shifts to the iconic short movie, A Short Film about the Indio Nacional, which runs for the rest of the film.

Above: A Short Film about the Indio Nacional.
Indio Nacional's perfectly composed and arresting images create a totality in filmic experience. The visual impact of its images mount perfectly with its musical score acclimating to a crescendo; and, at one point, during the scene of the eclipse, evokes the masterworks of filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr. Indio Nacional's melancholic imagery of the old world fits the awakening consciousness of its characters. The three characters that have awakened from their slumbers—the young bell ringer, the young Katipunero, and the young actor—are all connected through their visions of the sky. It was as if they are summoned together by the same visual force that appears to them, returning the viewers to the transformative power of image and of cinema.

Above: Independencia.
The powerful monochromatic images of Indio Nacional will be again be reconstituted in Independencia. This film reflects on the colonial attitudes during the American colonial regime. Martin drapes it with studio aesthetics to situate the story within the period of its appropriation, the 1920s to 1930s Philippines, when studio-filmmaking in the country was at its height. In the vast rhetorical canvas of Independencia, two attitudes were observed: resistance in the first part and resignation in the second part. These halves are cut by an intervening video insert featuring a fictitious tale of American troops gunning down innocent people who did questionable deeds. It was this part that Raya Martin demonizes the imperialist Americans reasserting the political and post-colonial dimensions of Independencia.
The film positions its first part, about the flight of the mother and son from the village to the forest, as a sign of resistance. American forces colonized the Filipino people by teaching English and the American way of life to them, a neocolonialist strategy for usurping a nation. This is very different from what the Spaniards did, for they used predominantly militaristic force through religion to colonize native Filipinos during the 1500s. In a way, the Americans weaved their culture within the Filipino cultural sphere, transforming a Spanish-colonized country into a Americanize neo-colony. The mother in Independencia is aware of these transformative forces and flees with her son to the forest to prevent the possible infiltration of neocolonialist ideas and to resist from the violent and terrorizing grasp of the American usurper. The son finds a young woman in the forest who was raped and impregnated by the Americans. The mother is doubtful about the woman's obscure origins; but soon, the mother died of an unknown sickness unable to witness the birthing of the woman's child.

Above: Independencia.
In the last part of Independencia there is a formation of a family unit: The son and the woman rear the child with care and construct a reality of rural life within him. Yet the child’s curiosity of the outside world leads him to further explore the forested region surrounding their home. This hints at the child’s conception of an imagined world exterior to his reality, but it remains inaccessible for him because of his father’s over-protectiveness. The child's exploration of the forest leads to the downfall of the family, with the father dying after a storm and the child escaping from the colonial usurpers. Martin's iconic ending concisely portrays one of the many endless ramifications of the broken Filipino consciousness. There is resistance felt when the child flees from the American troops during this final part. It is an instinctual type of resistance, the one that comes naturally. But because of his innocence and lack of knowledge to fight back, being only a child, there is no other way but to jump resigning his life for his nation. 

Above: Independencia.
While Independencia and Indio Nacional deserve merit for their completeness as films displaying Raya Martin’s impressive command of the filmic language, the director's other films like Track Projections, Ars Colonia, and Buenas noches, España add another less complete but no less rich dimension to his career. Track Projections, Ars Colonia, and Buenas noches, España are Martin’s most experimental and least accessible works. However, what is surprising about these films is their percussive nature to borrow their subjects from the historical sphere of his previous films, if not from cinema itself (as in Track Projections’ reference to the rolling of celluloid film in a 16-mm fashion).

Above: Ars Colonia.
The color play in Ars Colonia and excessive use of repeating monochromatic shots in Buenas noches, España are extended reflections carefully designed to re-imagine old visual processes Martin used in his other films. Looking closely at these works, one can trace back their visual origins to Martin's animated caricatures in Indio Nacional and to the colorization of the mountain in the last part of Independencia. Ars Colonia’s looming image of a sole soldier walking at sea towards an island extends the stylization into a postcolonial image. In Buenas noches, España, his extreme use color fields and repeating frames ruptured old styles and conventional aesthetics of traditional Philippine cinema and defied audiences' expectation. Its reference to a soldier teleporting from the Philippines to Spain links the two films and extends further the imagery of the post-colonial relations between Philippines and Spain after a hundred or so years after the 1898 revolution.

Above: Buenas noches, España.
In connection with Raya Martin’s work as a filmmaker is the problem of situating his work within the social paradigm of Philippine society. In his fond recollection of his experience with his first film, Island at the End of the World, Martin wrote:
Hearing ceaselessly about the island from social science professors and seeing its charming scenery in pictures, I had decided to take loads of tapes and a digital video camera (my parents had bought it for me as a graduation present) for an almost guerilla shooting.1
The intensity of the Batan image captured Raya Martin with such force that he dropped all the possibilities of the day to surrender himself to cinema. However, the word “guerrilla” comes up rather piquant. In fact, the very group of filmmakers that exclusively uses the term “guerrilla shooting” would criticize him as too apolitical, too art-for-art’s-sake, and an outsider to the dominantly socio-politically charged, neorealist, and Third-World-bounded film culture.
In the Philippines, aesthetic or political-aesthetic endeavors are reserved only to a small group of filmmakers, often working at the fringes of Philippine cinema. They rarely survive financially; yet they cling to scraps of government funding and support from international funding institutions. Experimental filmmaking in the Philippines, to which Raya Martin and Lav Diaz are the flag bearers, suffers from institutional repression as they are subjected to bureaucratic forces shaped by hegemonic culture of the ruling class and also to the censorship of state especially to sex-themed films. Local experimental films are also subjected to the critique of core leftists who do not acknowledge films with radical forms. This evidently shows what French film critic Nicole Brenez identifies as the schism between art cinema (the cinema of forms) and ‘political’ cinema (the cinema of insurgence).
I refuse to consider Raya Martin as purely an aesthete, a socially detached filmmaker, whose films are purely self-indulgent. The leftist groups champions films that elucidate social realities of marginalized people in the most realist form. The socio-politically dedicated filmmaking in the Philippines serves effectively as the backbone for the resurgence in independent filmmaking. It has been the dominant model for independent filmmaking in the Philippines since the 70s with Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Mike de Leon as founding fathers of this movement. In a way, leftist camps have always associated the commercial triumphs of 1970s-1980s local cinema as the evidence for the success of the social realist filmmaking movement in empowering the public sphere to reconnect with their nationalistic roots. Their goal was to revive this mass-based cinema in the spirit of independent filmmaking through the use of the digital camera.
But what leftist groups overlooked within their context was Raya Martin’s resistance to the contemporary cultural hegemony. This hegemony was the result of transformation of Philippine society during the 90s when its progressive national cinema was replaced by commercial machinery with an assembly line that restricts creative freedom. Subversion, to the point of aversion, defaces this dominant and lethargic form of local cinema, colliding head-on with its visual and narrative structure. Martin's explorations of alternative and subversive routes of aesthetic experiences led him to shape his films politically and have it rooted within the colonial past and contemporary issues of revolutions in society.
Raya Martin’s oblique reinterpretations of Philippine’s national history is a form of covert insurgence against popular forms. Covert subversion in filmmaking reassesses the internal battles of individuals within a transforming society through emotional, philosophical, and spiritual catharsis. This is very different from overt subversion which resorts to a social realist and propagandist filmmaking with high commitment to social-political foregrounding, guerrilla style, and Soviet montage editing. Raya Martin’s disarming style in portraying history in his films, and also his reconstruction of familiar narratives into new ones, reaffirms his covert and subversive intent to revolt against this hegemonic front. This has always been his political commitment to New Philippine Cinema.
Raya Martin’s films are works of a politically and aesthetically committed filmmaker. His concern has often been, to a point, ruminative of the past and present Philippine society. They are reflections about history, revolutions, cinema, people, and perhaps the staggering sorrow of the Filipinos from its colonial past. Martin’s baffling oeuvre and innovative style paint for us his multifaceted impact to the Philippine cinema discourse. He extended it in such a way that he risked the faint and sensitive mask he carried all these years in order to tell and retell his visions about the postcolonial realities of my country. His films are separate entities of their own, but they are connected seamlessly, functioning all together, forming a dazzling tapestry of nation who has lost its consciousness in the tides of time.

Above: Autohystoria.

Independencia (2009)
Sought this out because Martin is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50. Reminds of the fake 4:3 history of Tabu, but even more artificial, and with more leaves and fronds than Sternberg would’ve thought possible for his Anatahan. Percussive music when needed, never rising higher than the sound of wind.
There’s a family fighting hunger and frigid rain. Little birds (finches?) flutter around as if tossed into frame, landing in a kid’s hair at one point. Americans collect the kid but apparently not out of goodwill, since they start shooting when he runs off.

The subtitles don’t seem trustworthy, and my copy is too muddy and low-res. And I don’t really understand. But the photography is very nice, and different from anything else today. Turns to color for a Germany Year Zero ending. Must rewatch when blu-ray comes out.

N. Manaig:
Not unlike South American and other Third World writers employing magic realism in their works, Martin harnesses the inherently surreal/fantastical aspects of our folklore in order to mirror the under-emphasized and misrepresented aspects of our culture. Circulated in the deep of the night, circulated during meals, the stories exchanged in the depths of the forest are a kind of nourishment, a defense mechanism that both diverts and fortifies.

D. Kasman (who also mentioned Anatahan):
His minute little saga, which begins with a mother and son in the late 1890s fleeing the American invasion of the Philippines by hiding out in the forest, and ends with the son having a son all his own, still hiding from the encroaching Yanks, is shot in homage to old Hollywood films.

Visually, Martin reflects this process of cultural imperialism in the images of supplanted native identity that bookend the film: from the opening shot of Filipinos in figuratively handed down Spanish clothing .. to the ominous tincture of color suffusing the horizon against a Mount Fuji-esque scenic landscape (reminiscent of scroll work) that augurs the arrival of the Japanese.

- deeperintomovies.net/

Raya Martin's Independencia has found the cinematic equivalent of a double negative: artifice referencing artifice cancels itself out.  His minute little saga, which begins with a mother and son in the late 1890s fleeing the American invasion of the Philippines by hiding out in the forest, and ends with the son having a son all his own, still hiding from the encroaching Yanks, is shot in homage to old Hollywood films.  All the pictorial chiaroscuro of the Philippine forest is fake, flat matte shots, exquisite studio lighting, and precisely controlled rainstorms.  The lush soundtrack was recorded elsewhere, the music even lusher, upstaging the false humility of the beautifully canned jungle sounds.  The homage to—and, most probably, the critique of–the fakery of American cinema to tell a Philippine story is problematically muddled by this beauty.  Independencia doesn't look like any old Hollywood film; it looks like Sternberg's The Saga of Anatahan.  The surface beauty transcends the purpose, and considering something like a quarter of this film is ambient shots of wind blowing through the trees and grass, along with insert shots of the jungle in waiting, the political import of the film seems to dwindle in the face of, simply, Martin's visually and aurally lovely film.  Nevertheless, life, as they say, finds a way.  The hilarious mustache of a murderous American soldier carries with it more critique—and vitality—than the more dreamy aspects of the film, and the occasional presence of chicks tottering round the set and birds clearly released from cages do a fine job of stirring the more unflappable side of the film.  Martin easily conjures an atmosphere of modest, supple dreaminess—not an ounce of pretension exists in the film despite its stylistic conceit—but in the face of the location work of someone like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Independencia's chill vibe is welcome but seems easy.  More importance is placed on the surreal naturalism of the film's beautifully painted matte backgrounds than any sort of human or story presence, and while Martin's natural sense of space gives everything on camera its due, I wish there were more on camera than the splendor of a studio production. - Daniel Kasman

On June 12, 1898, a group of self-proclaimed generals and their supporters declared independence for an archipelago who has been under Spanish rule for more than three centuries. Since then, the archipelago has been the colony of the Americans for more than four decades and the Japanese for around three years before being granted by the Americans who rescued the islands from the clutches of the Japanese with independence on July 4, 1946. In an effort to acknowledge the sacrifices of the revolutionaries who strove for freedom from the Spanish, the Philippine government transferred Independence day from July 4 back to June 12, notwithstanding the fact that the waving of the Philippine flag by the momentarily victorious generals was more symbolic than real, given the fact that at that moment, the Americans have bought the islands, along with Puerto Rico, from the Spanish as if it were real estate. Thus, it is not very surprising that the concept of independence has been nothing but an elusive euphamism for most Filipinos. It is easily mistaken for patriotism, love for country, or worse, radicalism. With more than a century since the Filipinos declared for themselves independence, can this nation truly consider itself independent?
Last June 12, 2009, Raya Martin came home from Cannes to screen his aptly titled film Independencia to his countrymen. Martin, who alongside several internationally acclaimed Filipino filmmakers like Lav Diaz (Melancholia (2008) and Kagadanan sa Banwaan Ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos (2007)) and Brillante Mendoza (Kinatay (Slaughtered, 2009) and Serbis (Service, 2008)) have been accused of making films for foreign audiences instead of his fellow Filipinos, is unrelenting in his art but nevertheless values truth above visual and narrative pleasures. Martin creates films about concepts that matter to him. He seeks to recreate a historic past that he, and most other Filipinos have been deprived of (Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, 2005), where short film vignettes of ordinary Filipinos during times of peace and war; and Autohystoria (2007), where the murder of revolutionary Andres Bonifacio and his brother is reenacted as a contemporary tale of political salvage), or his own personal memories (Now Showing (2008), a film that is divided into two parts: the first part about a girl's whimsical childhood and the second part about the girl living out her life borne out of his joyous past as punctuated by a traumatic event that separates the two parts), or filmmaking (Next Attraction (2008), also a film that is divided into two parts: the first part is about a film crew making an independent production and the second part shows the film they made).
Independencia is largely composed of nuances and minute details. The story is simple. A mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and his son (Sid Lucero) retreat into the middle of the jungle as American troops start invading the towns. Mother and son lead an austere yet satisfying life away from civilization until the son finds a woman (Alessandra de Rossi), injured and presumably raped by the Americans. The mother dies of illness. The man and the woman, along with her son (Mika Aguilos) start living together peacefully in the middle of the jungle. There are no heroes, no resounding acts of patriotism, and no rousing marches or melodies. Perhaps the most conspicuous element of Independencia is the aesthetics that it borrows from early American talkies. Shot entirely inside a sound studio that is refashioned into a jungle with painted backgrounds, plants, birds, and other creatures and sound effects that realistically capture the atmosphere, the film is oftentimes breathtaking to look at, with cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie making use of artificial lighting to create haunting images that complement Lutgardo Labad's momentous score.
There's a reason behind Martin's use of borrowed aesthetics. As with Maicling Pelicula where Martin makes use of silent film aesthetics as reaction to a recorded history that is predominantly centered on the privileged instead of the masses, Independencia's aesthetics marks as both an indignation of the cinematic culture that the Philippines has been deprived of (either by ignorance or deplorable film archiving, given the fact that most pre-war Filipino films have been lost to decay) and a commentary on the hypnotizing and bamboozling effect of what seems to be America's most enduring gift to the Filipinos: the love for cinema. In the middle of Independencia, the film gives way to a fake news reel about a kid who was shot dead by an American soldier for pilfering crops from a vendor. Accompanied with humorous sarcasm and satire, the reel is nonetheless telling of the mis-education that the Americans have inflicted on the Filipinos, to the point that the latter is willing to digest the blatantly illogical and immoral to please their colonial masters.
Independencia tackles the concept of independence in its most unadulterated form, where both mother and son sacrifice the comforts of colonial living, of so-called civilization to live in the jungle. By stripping themselves of their colonial past, they become subjects of nature and the elements. Beliefs transform as pre-colonial lore, with passed-on tales of powerful talismans and golden skinned deities, become redundant conversational devotions. Their sexual impulses, left unhindered by concepts of religion and morality, occupy both their idle time and dreams. The familial unit remains. More than the familial unit are traces of their former lives made apparent in their subconscious thoughts: the mother dreams of an intense sexual encounter while the son dreams of fighting a war. Independence remains an elusive concept, even to a family who was forced to give up the comforts of colonial living and learned to love the mystic allure of the jungle. Tainted, perhaps forever, with foreign influence, death seems the inevitable freedom.
The pale-skinned boy, presumably the son of the woman with her American aggressors, is the lone character that is truly independent. Born in the jungle with only tales from his known father and mother as guidance to the world, the boy's curiosity expands as he grows older. The Americans are slowly making their way into the jungle. As the jungle becomes less of a haven for the family, their choices get slimmer. For the couple, the rationale of keeping themselves freed from colonial rule is blurred by the demands of the tough times as food is becoming more scarce and a devastating storm is brewing. For the boy, the allure of what's out there seems natural and understandable, considering that the color of his skin hardly matches the skin of both his mother and father. However, the boy chooses independence and sacrifices his life for it. Martin marks the boy's sacrifice with striking colors, meshing style and substance together in a sublime sequence of tremendous beauty and emotion.
According to this reviewer who had the pleasure of seeing Independencia in Cannes, Martin introduced the film to his audience with a wish that people would be able "to die for their country, and for cinema." Morbid as it sounds, Martin's wish proves to be a logical solution to a world where people have forgotten to be independent and cinema has forgotten its role as recorder of culture and history. If death is the only measure to gain this independence, then let us be brave enough to slit our own throats or force ourselves in exile, symbolically. Lest we actually know the pains and pleasures of living outside the mainstream, of living without the influences that mutate the virtues that bind us as human beings, then we cannot honestly consider ourselves truly independent. - oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/


The first thing you notice in Raya Martin’s Independencia is its color. Assuming that before you enter the cinema you see things in their usual hues, your eyes are quick to tell you that betraying them should be the last thing on your mind. The sudden adjustment of your eyes to its palette, as if revolting to the uncommon sight of moving black and white images in the big screen, suspends early judgment, for whatever it is that Martin has yet to prove to make his films “accessible” to “common” moviegoers only becomes relevant to people who consider themselves superior to the films they watch. I am not everyone, so I suppose if I may speak against the few whose bias is cultural, and whose thought balloons argue that if a recent French film is shot in black and white it is art, but if it is a Filipino film it is pretentious, my dear friends, I tell you, modesty is overrated. Let the film argue for itself.
Its color is not only noticeable. It is salient; it leaps out of the screen to claim your attention, to hold you still, as if bringing you to the setting of its narrative despite seeing its artificiality. There is consent, but it is not given sincerely. When one is not paying attention, there are many things that get lost, that are not appreciated, that are preempted by the fact that we are seeing a film that is clearly out of our league, whose world is some place we already left to move on. My first viewing of Independencia had me close my eyes because I could not stand Martin’s images. I was not disinterested; I just felt the need to close my eyes to focus more – – and it actually worked. There is an admirable effort to make the dialogues sound faithful to its time – – that is, during the early part of the century when the Americans took over – – and the stories of its characters bring to mind some childhood tales our friends used to tell us during recess, or legends our grandparents used to tell us to put us to sleep. The sound feels more than what it should be, which like the painted backdrops used throughout the film, aims to mimic the filmmaking trend of its time: the use of studio and the theme of resistance. The disbelief is suspended, but other things are also cut loose.
One clever part of the film is when the narrative is interrupted by a newsreel, the partly tragic and the partly humorous account of a boy with “unquestionable motive” shot dead by a soldier, who supposed that the kid was stealing some fruits in the market. I find the reel particularly amusing, that aside from the fact that Martin uses it to simulate the period when watching movies in theaters also meant reading the papers in between (and contrary to the fact that the news is not particularly amusing), it has also worked for the narrative, allowing us through the pause to follow more clearly the young man’s life as he bounces from his mother’s lap to his wife’s arms. The dream sequences and animation, which are also quirkily used in Indio Nacional, soften its uptight texture and provide humor to its somewhat humorless facade.
Martin is severely criticized in his previous films for his storytelling – – or as some would say, his lack thereof – – his indulgence in non-importance, his narratives that reek of boredom, his stubborn ambition. Independencia proves that he can do well with a plot as thin as a hair strand, a linear story that recalls early cinema, especially when the plot is only used to say other things, to suggest multitude of ideas, to bring to life a universe of histories. He tells the story the way his requirement needs it to be told, but he is still in touch with the style that he is hated for. While last year’s Now Showing really begs for walkouts, Independencia earns its right to be taken seriously, with less diabolic murmurs and more indicative silence (does sleep fall under silence?).
That he has put his four characters in isolation – – each portrayed wondrously by its actors (except my complaint about the kid’s rather incredible tone) – – is both logical and ironic. Our geographical location gives the logical part away, and the thousand islands that constitute our land intensify it even more. The ironic part is that we are also isolated within, that we are trapped in our own isolation, and that we are running away from that thought. Again, the use of color in the end becomes crucial in showing that.
But what becomes significant is not the story but the events that caused them to happen, which I believe Martin has the least concern to tell. In his films he has strived for the heart of subtlety by connecting with the tangled wires of our identity, not by untangling them but by going through them, following the knots till he reaches the end: the understanding. I will not claim liking Martin’s style – – liking it will make it more complicated to explain, and liking it risks more dishonest statements – – but I am surely affected by his films, confounded by their distinct voice, pained by their torturous storytelling, excited by their newness, amazed by their defiance. Independencia, all things considered, cracks open another feeling for me, and that maybe is the guilt in doubting it.
As an audience it is depressing to be hounded by questions instead of answers, that while films may not be entertaining they should at least be modest enough not to pain us emotionally, or confuse us to the point that even the simplest questions like Did you like the film? come out like the most difficult question in the world to answer. In fact in Martin’s case, the question Did you like the film? seems rhetorical, and if one obliges to answer it he will soon realize that another question is required to be answered, like If you didn’t like it because it is not entertaining, I wonder, should films be entertaining to be liked? Things like that. Independencia, like Martin’s previous films, poses questions that are not unanswerable but they are difficult to answer because I think Martin doesn’t know the answers to his questions either, so why bother. Why should I bother? Why should we bother?
And I guess that’s where I see the point of his films, and the reason why he should continue doing them. He stands alone as the hopeful one, the peerless storyteller of Philippine history that forces us to see the image that we refuse to look at, even for a second. We complain that we are always seen as a poor nation, that the films that represent us in foreign festivals are always about poverty, that Kinatay isn’t exactly the proper image of the Philippines that we should project outside. We do not complain about Independencia’s subject because it alleviates our guilt – – our guilt for not caring, our guilt for not letting these things matter – – because it is fed to us that history is important yet we do not really know why. Yet Independencia also shows how poor we are, how malignantly distant we are to our past, and how unrecognizable it is, as if our past is only what our textbooks tell us. If Martin’s films represent the true Filipino, then maybe that’s the reason why we choose to be another, to imbibe the culture of another, to become another. That’s why his films are such agony; it is easier not to recognize their power because they leave us powerless. They are not a source of enjoyment because otherwise we should redefine enjoyment.
Our history, if I may borrow Paul Simon’s words, is like a distant constellation that’s dying in a corner of the sky. Like the young man’s failing eyes as he looks at his home, vaguely making anything out of it, his feet barely moving, leaving him at the mercy of leaves and thunder, it all becomes a matter of recognition, of our memory failing us or us failing our memory. And Martin, if I have not yet expressed my sincere admiration, for taking the road less traveled, has surely made all the difference. - Richard Bolisay

For, with a strong indigenous cultural life, foreign
domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation.
-- Amilcar Cabral

Everyone of us is channeling Americans. For over a hundred years now, we have imitated and internalized their smallest tics and their thickest twang; we aren’t called Little Brown Americans for nothing. Our assimilation of all things American is there to see – though perhaps too self-evident to notice. We eat Kentucky Friend Chicken and McDonald’s burgers and wash them down with swigs of Pepsi or Coca-Cola. We wear the latest shoes from Nike and listen to the latest songs by American Idols. We watch the latest movies churned out by Hollywood,
starring our favorite state-side actors. These are our everyday realities. We are, in truth, not as independent as the history books would like us to believe; we are living in the shadow of these insidiously neo-colonial times.
Raya Martin’s Independencia, making its Philippine premiere on Independence Day ironically in a French film festival, may not espouse up-in-arms revolution (how, when the enemy is within us?) but delivers a subtly hortatory message: the Filipino should endeavor to rediscover his pre-colonial roots. It’s the first small step in his long journey towards recovering true independence. Set in the early 1900s and onwards, Independencia avoids, perhaps by default, the grandiosely-scripted and astronomically budgeted depiction of an epical and heroic era: the American occupation. Instead, writer-director Raya Martin astutely focuses on common folks, non-comnbatants: a mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and her son (Sid Lucero) who flee to the forest as soon as the threat of war encroaches on their town.
Here, in this forest, reality seems refracted through a strangely allegorical and magical prism. Birds dart out of the bushes like shimmering bullets; breezes blow unceasingly; ferns and palm fronds sway and bend; a stream ripples and flows through it. In the conversations that will transpire within its bosom, this forest will be alluded to as the object of greed, and two towns go to war for it. This is where mother and son seek refuge. Soon (no one knows the nature of time here) they are joined by a woman (Alessandra de Rossi) who has been raped by American soldiers. In due time, she gives birth to a fair-skinned child.
Independencia, however, is not about a family’s insularity. What this retreat from the outside world ultimately means is a symbolic return to the Filipino’s bedrock strength, a revalorization of his indigenous culture, his pre-colonial past. Within this film’s family, the oral tradition of myths, proverbs, legends and general folklore, is reenacted and passed down from one generation to another. Talk of talismans, giant wild boars, and the aswang circulate among this family in the woods. And the realities in the forest – e.g. the son finding his way home only after turning his shirt inside out, the appearance of wood spirits – don’t seem to contradict what this family partakes in.
Not unlike South American and other Third World writers employing magic realism in their works, Martin harnesses the inherently surreal/fantastical aspects of our folklore in order to mirror the under-emphasized and misrepresented aspects of our culture. Circulated in the deep of the night, circulated during meals, the stories exchanged in the depths of the forest are a kind of nourishment, a defense mechanism that both diverts and fortifies.
And yet in Independencia, Martin has fashioned out one of his least confounding and more accessible films to date. Independencia is not unlike a well-told legend: there are moments of facile objective reality combined with moments that ask us to suspend disbelief. Much of Martin’s unconventional and unpredictable narrative techniques are becoming familiar to us, it seems. He has also decided to meet his audience halfway: much of the counter-intuitive filmmaking we’ve seen in movies like Autohystoria and Now Showing is kept to a minimum. (But perhaps these are just the strictures of this particular film – to be displaced by the stylistic demands of the next film.) Instead of unknowns and non-professionals, he casts well-known, professional actors for this, and they invariably deliver.
Conceived as the second entry in Raya Martin’s cycle of films set during periods of national struggle (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional being the first), Independencia may not mention America once in any of the film’s dialogue but its pernicious presence, its colonizing threat, is palpable. There is a newsreel-like sequence at midpoint of Independencia that brings this home: an actual atrocity by American soldiers shooting a boy suspected of pilfering is reported in quasi-provincial, faux-American accent. The film finesses its point with humor. There are no strident anti-American slogans here. That the American atrocity mirrors what happens in a 1976 film (Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara's Minsa’y Isang Gamu Gamo), only seems to suggest the currency of the Americans’ unchangingly contemptuous, subhuman regard for Filipinos.
Make no mistake, Independencia is a sophisticated post-colonial film and Raya Martin, at least in this instance, a veritable post-colonial filmmaker. Making a virtue of meager funding from European institutions (in particular, the IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund in 2007), he uses unconventional and postmodern approaches to film Independencia. Noteworthy is his reliance on distanciation techniques, which puts the stamp of its real provenance on the film. This film, shot in black and white by Jeanne Lapoirie, may look like an early 20th century American movie, but it is unmistakably a product of its time. Independencia is a living, breathing film: its colonial discourse is not restricted to the past, but remains as valid as ever. Hence, the tell-tale markers like the theatrical acting and theatrical dialogue, the unnaturally thick make-ups, the hybrid sets (a fusion of natural, live elements and handpainted backdrops brought to life by production designer Rodrigo Ricio), characters talking straight to the camera, the effect of film seemingly running out of its reel are not unjustified instances. The presence of White Leghorns – not introduced to the Philippines until 1950 – in a film that is supposed to be set during the American era also tells us of the timelessness of the issues problematized by this film.
Independencia, however, ends in the most unambiguous terms possible. Orphaned and alone, the fair-skinned boy (Mika Aguilos) enacts the supreme gesture of self-determination. Pursued by American soldiers deep in the forest, the boy makes sure of signifying his true allegiances. His realization of who he is and where he belongs, paints the sky in different shades of brown. This is, after all, the brown man’s world -- his beloved country. Long live the Filipino! - cinefilipinas.blogspot.com/  

Possible Lovers (2008)

Raya Martin’s Possible Lovers, a ninety five minute film introduced by five minutes of silent vignettes of Manila in 1919 segueing to around ninety minutes of a ridiculously long take of a man watching another man sitting on a couch and ending with a self-referential stab at itself, could be anything. The title suggests a romance. The screen suggests a one-sided romance, from the gazer (JK Anicoche) and the subject of his gaze (Abner Delina), a sleeping man wearing a coat and a top hat. The man’s gaze towards the sleeping man, considering that nothing could attract such long a gaze except what could be the beauty of a face or the possible intrigue of what is happening within the sleep, is an act of selfless adoration. Nothing else happens. They remain only possible lovers within the scope of Martin’s film, a film that is far too short to appreciate beyond the possibility of that possible love.
“They made movies in 1919,” states the intertitles that separate the vignettes of old Manila from the extended shot of the two men. The clips are deteriorated, made overtly imperfect by the decay of the film source over time and the effects of digitalization. Hardly the movie that the intertitles speak of, the clips are but phantoms of an existence or the possibility of the existence of such movies. Given that what’s left is a mere reminder of what was or what could have been a cinematic past, the cinephilic adoration morphs into what essentially is a fetishistic attachment for the dead or the near-dead. Is the man wearing a top-hat really a man but a ghost of the unobtainable past? Is the gaze really a romantic gaze of affection or a suffering gaze of patience, longing, regret and psychotic expectancy for specter wearing the top hat to wake up from what seems to be an eternal slumber?
Teresa Barrozo’s sound design accompanies the near-static image with the promise of movement and action. Sounds of horses galloping, of motor vehicles on the move, of men making passage through grass, create an atmosphere of unrest that is discordant with the steady visual. Are these the sounds from the movie that the audience supposed to be watching? Are these the sounds from the movie that the man is watching?
“We were two possible lovers, waiting for the film to end,” concludes the film. At first glance and probably at second, third, and fourth to viewers who cannot get over the fact that they were just watching a man watching another man, the coda seems to play like the punch-line to the film’s overextended practical joke. However, the coda succinctly summarizes the subtle anguish that Martin bares in the film. It is anguish attributable to an unfulfilled need, like a love affair infinitely stalled because of the utter impossibility of the receiver to reciprocate a fervent love being offered. As the man with the undying gaze is in the middle of a possible love affair, the audience is also stuck staring on a possible cinema, only to be reminded by the abrupt coda that there is actually no end, no conclusion. We all remain waiting, possible lovers of that possible film.
For Martin, love and cinema, both of which are for him indisputably personal as all of his films, where both are interchangeable themes, can attest to, are perpetually connected. Possible Lovers, within the span of ninety five minutes, majority of which is spent in teaching the audience the art of the expectant gaze, articulates a pain common to both those who are hopelessly romantic and those hopelessly in love with cinema.

Next Attraction (2008)
Probably more famously known for his cinema of the historical (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, Autohystoria, and more recently, Independencia), Raya Martin is very rapidly making strides in another direction in what might be called his cinema of the topical. After inaugurating his Box Office Trilogy in 2008 with a film entitled Now Showing, the 24-year-old director has quickly followed it up with its second installment, Next Attraction, a film about the current state of the local film industry and about the young director’s conversations with his favored medium. In Next Attraction, we get for the most part the supposed neutrality of the cinema-verite documentary that is used, but the nature of what is being documented can be sometimes indicting.
Right from the start, we are asked to ruminate on a sequence shot – a long static one – of a house built circa 1970s. More precisely, this first scene happens in the poorly-kept backyard of this house, grass unmown, the roof water-stained, suggestive, perhaps, of unsettled, troubled thoughts. Winds buffet the coconut and palm trees and the other ornamentals in the background as a woman saunters out of the house and sits in one of the wrought-iron chairs in the yard. From a distance, her slow, deliberate manner, running her fingers through her hair, is indicative of wistful, pensive thoughts. We aren’t too sure, however; her face is a blur. The winds soon die down. As the minutes pass meditatively, the strange detail of a klieg light standing in a corner, beaming brightly in broad daylight, becomes apparent. What is this film up to now? Then we hear the empathic word: Cut! This has been all a take; the woman is an actress in a film.
It’s a film within a film. Director and writer Raya Martin, however, is not content with this tried-and-tested conceit. Francois Truffaut (Day for Night), Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up) and Andrzej Wajda (Everything for Sale) have tried their hand at this narrative device before, but Martin goes one better: Next Attraction is a film within a film within a film. What results is surprisingly an intricate but coherent work. Three realities, three verisimilitudes in one film: one conveying a fictitious film crew being documented; another conveying the fictitious documentarians who never become visible other than through their scrupulous hands covering camera lenses, indicating cuts; and the third conveying the apparently “true story” being filmed. What we ultimately see is the documentarians’ point of view chronicling a film crew in action.
As might be expected when cameras are rolling, the film crew being documented are a picture of efficiency and synergy. They pull off the naturalism of a tight-knit group going about their business through a day of exacting work. Although they seem oblivious of anyone documenting them, they seem too eager to work with each other. No tantrum-throwing directors here, only modest actresses who don’t mind posing with admirers for pictures and such. This film crew is exemplary, bent assiduously on their tasks and everyone, from the director down to the technicians, is on his best behavior.
Complementing this film crew very well are the documentarians: very discreet and unobtrusive, as they chronicle the long, grueling but not necessarily unsatisfying shoots of a film crew. Using cinema-verite methods, the documentarians position themselves in the least intrusive positions on the set, shielding their lenses and turning off their cameras when needed. They almost shy away from the filmmakers’ shoots, and seem to home in on the dynamics of this film crew instead. What they capture is by turns reflective (conveyed through simple cuts to black) and frenetic (or perhaps tedious) (conveyed through jump cuts).
The overall tone of Next Attraction is, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek as it captures the controlled chaos of a film shoot. The fictitious film director (J.K. Anicoche) has time for small talk – jabbing playfully at Raya Martin the famous director in one of his overheard conversations with his crew. But if this is a time for a little humor, this also the time to pay homage to the capacity of the camera to fictionalize, to create its own truths. With simple editing trickery, this documentary of sorts is suggestive of ars cinematica – whose visual zeal and robustness echo the self-referential mannerisms of Godard.
And the film being shot? When the resulting film is tacked on and shown at the end, it might seem like anticlimax: it seems too aestheticized, too prettified compared to the relatively grittier realism of the actual shoot. But this fictitious film embodies many of the truths about what goes on in local cinema. The penchant for melodrama, the current predominance of indie aesthetics and production values, and the commodification of homoerotic acts are but some of the salient points of this fictitious film. And what is it about? Suffice to say that it features a troubled relationship between mother (Jacklyn Jose) and her 17-year-old son (Coco Martin).
Next Attraction is perhaps as much about the struggling (moribund?) state of one national cinema as it is a meditation on the nature of filmmaking, of what is true and what is not. Nothing (or perhaps everything) is what it seems: the truth is filtered through so many intervening mediations that might influence it. What may come billed as “a true story” is ultimately amplified, modulated and refracted by actor, film crew, director, editor and so on – subject to their synergy, the smallest eventuality, the smallest whimsy of everyone on the set. If there are passages that apotheosize an actress in bygone times in Now Showing, Next Attraction is more inclusive, it congratulates everyone who is (was ever) involved in that backbreaking endeavor called filmmaking. And perhaps that’s the note on which Raya Martin ultimately wants to leave us – not a scathing satire but an oblique homage to filmmaking. - cinefilipinas.blogspot.com/
Now Showing (2008)

One night while discussing the life, death, and rebirth of stars, a young Rita candidly asks her mother, "what if all the stars die at the same time?" Rita's mother, unable to provide a scientifically verifiable answer to her daughter's legitimate question, smiles and proceeds to her room to sleep. Raya Martin's fourth feature Now Showing, which is premiering at Cannes in the Director's Fortnight, deeply examines that void that possibly and probably happens when all the stars have died all at once. The film, epic-like in length with a running time of four hours and forty minutes, can be divided into two parts, an episodic account of Rita's childhood and her present experience as an adult working for her aunt's pirated DVD stall, divided by an intriguing interlude composed of clips from one of the few surviving Filipino pre-war films, Octavio Silos' Tunay na Ina (Real Mother, 1939).
There is an ominous air of sorrow that pervades the film. A palpable void in all the characters most essential of which is Rita, designates itself as the film's internal heartbeat. Right from the start, where animated alphabets playfully appear to complete a quotation by Rita Hayworth ("All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know."), the film already declares itself as a tale of outbursting longing of a myriad of needs.
It's a visually interesting film. The first half of Now Showing has the aesthetic feel of an amateur video. Artificially aged and damaged, Rita's childhood takes the appearance of a long-kept memory, an unearthed artifact of the past. Interspersed within the film are crudely stop-animated sequences. It is succeeded by similarly damaged black and white clips from Tunay na Ina, which further emphasizes the first half's role as hindsight to the pains of a near-forgotten childhood. The contrast of the first half to the latter half is apparent and striking, since the latter is visually more formally structured, shot predominantly to emphasize the social alienation and decay that intervene in the life of Rita. Like the dozens of pirated DVDs she sells that exemplify our fake culture of commodification, she dons trappings of superficial happiness and identity but in reality, is very confused and on the verge of facing the far end of the dead-ended road.
During the opening scene, we witness Rita alone in her room, singing and dancing like her namesake, in what I fathom as a private ecstatic moment. This scene is followed by Rita and her neighbors in the street, playing. She stumbles, and then assures her friends that she's alright before excusing herself from the game. She limps home and cries on her own. During her birthday party, she feigns contentment despite the fact that none of her invited friends were around; her birthday party appearing to be a family reunion rather than a celebration of the fact that she exists. A vacation to the beach concludes with her crying, probably in reflective jealousy and envy, while witnessing a family welcoming the fishermen back from the sea.
Now Showing is detailed in the way that it peeks into the private life of its main character. There's an almost voyeuristic delectation in the way we witness some personal things we tend to declare as mundane. That interest further glows as the melancholy of the character's private life becomes more apparent. That melancholy is of course tainted by the innocence and joy of childhood and growing up, but the picture swells with that incandescent burden of painful childhood memories, not necessarily traumatic in the way most coming-of-age tales are built upon but still evidently encumbering.
When Rita grows up to be a young lady, the privacy of her childhood melancholy is replaced with a pertinent social disconnect. She appears to be the typical misdirected youth, fleeting from one party to another, and wallowing in the excesses of contemporary living. She has blossomed into a tragic figure similar to her famous namesake, who died afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease, numb to the glory of her memories. Rita has succumbed to the most common of afflictions of the citizens of this contemporary world, an inability to look back, an incapacity to retrieve memories. The subtle void and emptiness that infect her life are caused by that affliction. She has forgotten the value of history.
What happens when all the stars die all at once? Rita's mother fails to provide an answer, but Martin hints at a possible outcome --- a debilitating sense of forgetfulness and a glaring inability to connect past from present. Martin furthers this theory with his brilliant intermission, a montage of flickering, deteriorating, decomposing scenes from a pre-war film made unrecognizable by time, abuse, and national neglect. Martin's metaphor of disconnect is as blatant as it is disturbing, since the nation is naively unhurdled by this cinematic void, with plenty more of its filmic treasures dying simultaneously like the heavenly bodies Rita curiously asks about. Basically, Martin mourns a nation composed of tens and millions of Ritas, unable to recall the lessons of the past simply because the memories have permanently disappeared from convenient reach.
Martin has always focused on history (or the lack of it) with his films. He laments his nation's prevailing amnesia by composing films that visualize such emptiness. In Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipinos), 2005), Martin recreates the Filipino war for independence this time through the eyes of the common man. With the film, he seeks to visually approximate a moment in history that has forever passed. Martin follows up Maicling Pelicula with Autohystoria (2007), more visually ominous, detailing the execution of Philippine revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio and his brother, another portion of Philippine history that has been draped with rumors and history. By placing the event in the contemporary social and political scenario, Martin succeeds in brandishing his thesis that this national amnesia is not merely a problem that exists primarily within a bubble. The problem is more deeply rooted, and connects directly to how the nation exists now. Now Showing is much more personal (little details like young Rita's uncanny resemblance with Martin, among others), especially since it is the most narratively-reliant of Martin's films. Martin masterfully places his cinematic advocacy to a clearly personal project, and the result is simply magical and Martin's most resonant, most thematically beautiful film to date.
The film concludes with a lengthy yet beautifully shot and edited sequence of travel and transition, exposing a light of hope despite the film's melancholic and wistful air. The baggages and the lessons of the past she tug as she contemplates and daydreams on her way to that undisclosed location. She sleeps, and the picture fades into white, instead of the typical black. A simple melody is heard (the first time music is ever heard from the film since Martin mutes every song for some mysterious reason). It's a compassionate gesture from Martin as he ends Rita's tale with subtle optimism, a conceivable twinkle of grace despite having witnessed Rita in her most private aching moments. With Now Showing, Martin bares himself not only as an extremely talented filmmaker (at twenty-three years old, he has made four films completely different from each other, but bare a stamp of integrity in theme and aesthetics) but as an uncompromising yet generous artist. - oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/

Eclipsing Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” for the dubious distinction of longest movie at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (and winning by more than 30 minutes), “Now Showing” reps an audacious undertaking by prolific 23-year-old Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin. An unclassifiable hodgepodge of scenes from the life of a young Manila girl, pic contains many flashes of the director’s talent and will have its handful of iron-buttocked partisans but ultimately fails to convince even on its own loosely defined aesthetic terms. With zero commercial prospects anywhere in the world, “Now Showing” seems likely to fulfill its title only at diehard auteurist fests.
Unlike his epic-minded countryman Lav Diaz, whose nine- and 10-hour marathons are packed with characters and narrative incident, Martin (whose “Autohystoria” and “A Short Film About the Indio Nacional” established him as a bright talent among the emerging generation of Filipino directors) here more closely adheres to the structuralist/minimalist tradition of an Andy Warhol or Chantal Akerman. Current film is composed of extremely long, mostly single-shot scenes of not very much happening.
An opening sequence of traffic passing at night lasts a modest four minutes, followed by a seven-minute scene of a preteen girl singing karaoke in her bedroom, followed by another seven-minute scene of that same girl, Rita (played, in the first half of the film, by actress Ness Roque), playing a hopscotch-like game with her friends. Eventually, Martin introduces Rita’s mother and boisterous makeup-saleswoman aunt, as well as other family members glimpsed during an extended Christmas dinner sequence.
These scenes, like most of what follows in “Now Showing,” resemble nothing so much as personal homemovies recorded on low-res, second-generation video. Given that Martin claims to have scripted the film and shot it with professional actors, that’s undeniably some kind of achievement, though it doesn’t stop “Now Showing” from ultimately feeling like a very, very long homemovie.
On one level, Martin’s simple (but hardly insignificant) goal seems to be to put everyday Filipino life on the screen in an unfettered, naturalistic way. On another level, there are hints of a commentary on the history of Filipino identity in the arts.
In one scene, we learn Rita is the granddaughter of a famous Filipina actress. In another, we see her lying on a bed with her mother, listening to a horror-themed radio play. In the pic’s second half, we see Rita (now played by an older teenage actress) working a part-time job in a DVD sales shop, shortly before “Now Showing” abandons its crude video aesthetic for a slightly more polished 16mm.
There are striking moments throughout, including a late-in-the-film argument between Rita and her boyfriend that Martin films, perversely yet intriguingly, from outside and across the street from the restaurant where it is taking place. Yet even on its own extremely avant-garde terms, “Now Showing” is all over the place and virtually impossible to get a handle on — a structuralist film lacking an obvious structure.
Why do some scenes last 10 minutes and others only five? Why does Martin create intentional audio dropouts whenever a character opens his or her mouth to sing a song? Why are the film’s two halves divided by 20 minutes of excerpts from “Real Mother,” a 1939 Filipino melodrama?
Well, why not? Indeed, almost any grounds on which one criticizes “Now Showing” could just as easily be championed as a virtue by the pic’s defenders, resulting in a movie nearly as impervious to criticism as it will be to most audiences. -
 Manila (2008)
Paying tribute to masterpieces of Filipino neorealism “City After Dark” by Ishmael Bernal and “Jaguar” by Lino Brocka, experimental two-parter “Manila” from leading indie helmers Raya Martin (“Independencia”) and Adolfo Alix Jr. (“Adela”) makes one yearn to see the originals. Comprised of two evocatively shot black-and-white segments separated by digitally colorized footage from a romantic feature being lensed by Lav Diaz, the pic’s got youthful energy aplenty and a great jazz-pop soundtrack, but won’t find many prospects offshore apart from festivals and speciality situations.
Up first, Martin’s edgy musicvid approach to Bernal’s story of lust, drugs, prostitution and rebellion against family and tradition plays like camp. Junkie William (producer Piolo Jose Pascual) wanders the mean streets of the eponymous capital looking for a fix, and crosses paths with some gossipy transvestites and a blind masseuse. In contrast, Alix’s contribution more smoothly captures Brocka’s style. Slum dweller Philip (Pascual again) works as a bodyguard for dissolute playboy Barry (Jay Manalo) and is attracted to his g.f. Amy (Alessandra De Rossi) before meeting a tragic end. Another five minutes of Lav Diaz footage plays after the end credits.

La última película

dir. Raya Martin, Mark Peranson

Lauded Filipino auteur Raya Martin (Independencia) and Canadian critic-filmmaker Mark Peranson collaborate with Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel) and frequent Nicolás Pereda star Gabino Rodriguez for this feverish, aesthetically startling re-imagining of Dennis Hopper’s notorious cult classic The Last Movie.
Reimagining Dennis Hopper’s 1970 film maudit The Last Movie, it accompanies a disillusioned and delusional American filmmaker (Alex Ross Perry, director and star of The Color Wheel) and his bemused local guide (Gabino Rodríguez, frequent star of the films of Nicolás Pereda) while the former conceives, prepares and ultimately makes a psychedelic Western in the Yucatán. This cult curio in the making critically and romantically explores the aesthetic ramifications of the shift from film to video, employing multiple formats to create an alchemical collage. Set on the brink of the Mayan Apocalypse and conjuring up the combustive atmosphere and combative spirit of seventies American independent cinema, this fact/ fiction hybrid delves into the fissures of our scattered, globalized era, leaving a host of cinematic clichés in its wake. With humour and passion to spare, La última película looks backwards and forwards at the same time, creating an oneiric gesture toward salvation even as it considers its own demise. Is this filmmaking as criticism? Or a feverish and wry cri de coeur for an art form that has radically altered the way we see the world?

Italian critic and filmmaker Michael Guarneri brings us an interview with Martin which is a film in its own right. Shot during the 2011 film festival in Locarno, it applies Martin's own invention of "autohysteria" to the interview situation with a split screen, which critically comments on itself with puns and doodles. Martin talks about his own films, about other films (The Blair Witch Project', Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams), and about the director's role as an archivist as opposed to a historian, and about turning (film) history against oneself. And it is both informative and incredibly funny.

Séparation de la critique - A trip with Raya Martin (2012)
by Michael Guarneri @BZONE Video di Roberto Bonisoli

The title card's 'Voyage to the Luna' is both a reference to the French silent film pioneer, magician and proto-maximalist Georges Méliès, and to the revolutionary Philippine 19th century painter Juan Luna. But apart from that, the style is Raya Martin's very own. Or, rather: the dialogue-free and neo-psychedelic time travel / love story, which starts in colonial Philippines at the end of the 16th century and zigzags to today, where it begins in the company of a young couple in front of a TV, in fact represents (yet) another expansion of the young director's filmic universe. 'Buenas Noches, Espana' is, in other words, Raya Martin's most trippy film to date. Perhaps it is also his most immediately accessible one? In any case, there is no reason to panic if conventional logic proves inadequate when faced with the maximalistic bombardment of digital colours and a massive sound design, that meet the eyes and ears. As a supporting film, we will show an unconventional (and incredibly funny) interview with Raya about his modern sources of inspiration from 'The Blair Witch Project' to 'Cloverfield', and about turning the filmmaking tradition against oneself.  - cphdoxnews.dk/

Scotch Pilgrim (short film): vimeo.com/62892077

Autohystoria (2007) : vimeo.com/60750936

A compendium of waking nightmares and dreamed realities, Raya Martin’s AUTOHYSTORIA is one of the most hardcore, rewarding digital movies of the 2000s.
The director tells the story of the Bonfacio brothers, two revolutionaries who were raided, captured and tortured deep in the jungle by rival insurgent Emilo Aguinaldo in Martin’s native Philippines. The brothers were tried and executed for treason - but this happened in 1897. Martin’s telling is actually a present-day reenactment drawn with languorous security camera footage, knockout tracking shots, and neorealist casting.
Raw and beautiful, AUTOHYSTORIA hops across formats, mingling national trauma with lived experience to confront viewers with the idea that things really haven’t changed too much since 1897.
"Easily the year's most radical and astonishing film..." - Robert Koehler, Variety
"The Filipino Raya Martin signs thus a stunning film on the persistence persisting of a passed violent collective: Autohystoria returns, on a method almost hallucinatory, on an event of the history of the country, the arrest of two young people, their enforcement in the jungle, and their brief execution by invisible butchers." - Isabelle Regnier, Le Monde

What does a film culture look like? Is it even apparent when it materializes in a certain place, a certain country? Even more important, when it disappears in a certain place, a certain country, does anyone notice?
The issues around this circulate in the context of BAFICI in Argentina (which has some kind of film culture), particularly as it is showing the films of Raya Martin from the Phillippines (which supposedly had no film culture). It centers on a community, and the crucial matter that a local film culture simply doesn’t exist without one. (This is why, when one attends REDCAT or Filmforum especially, one can conclude that there is an alternative film culture in Los Angeles.) There’s growing concern–at least as I’ve heard it in conversations here–that the much-vaunted Argentine cinema (remember when it was the toast of every serious film festival?) may be in serious crisis; at the very least, there’s great worry that the various filmmakers in the lead of the country’s cinema are all off on their own projects, with little actual community to hold it together. “They don’t even want to be around each other, let alone together,” says one BA film observer. BAFICI’s own “meeting point” (a phenomenon that I described in yesterday’s post) is the festival’s fine and lively effort to foster a community, and the healthy state of Argentine film production is a matter of record. The only nexus, however, of a real group of filmmakers—filmmakers who share ideas and labor (and possibly much else)–appears to circulate at the UniversitÈ del Cine, and the film program there run by the director of the superb M˙sica Nocturna, Rafael Filippelli. It’s obvious that at the screenings of M˙sica, or at those for Matias Pineiro’s El hombre robado (The Stolen Man) (both of which, ironically, are in the official Argentine competition), the circle around Filippelli and the university is friendly and supportive, and extends to such exceptionally talented former Filippelli students as Santiago Palavecino. This could prove to be the proving ground for a second wind of the more radical, leading edge of the country’s cinema, where a palpable (inevitable?) sense of exhaustion has settled in.
When the most interesting new work here is from a nearly 70-year-old veteran director (Filippelli), there’s something afoot. “Waves” are called such for a reason; they rise, crash and recede, and I tend to avoid the term, not least for its excessive overuse in critical writing. I would hate to think that this is happening in Argentina, and I would counsel patience to some of my Argentine friends who perhaps have a sound basis for feeling skeptical about the near-future. Their sense is that too much festival and critical success too soon has swept once-radical artists into a new mainstream. I’m not sure that I would include someone like Lucrecia Martel in that mainstream (it’s hard to imagine that she’ll ever make anything approaching even a mainstream Argentine film, let alone a mainstream film for the international market), but the Daniel Burmans and Adrian Caetanos? Standing on the corner of Av. Corrientes and Anchorena tonight after trying to absorb the utterly astounding revelations of Raya Martin’s A Short Film about the Indio Nacional, Quintin, his friend and I were joking about the future Hollywood projects of Burman, for whom a New York family comedy produced by Miramax seems just a matter of a few phone calls and signing documents.
At the same time, I’m not sure what it means when an audience seems to enjoy a film like Federico Leon’s and Marcos Martinez’ Estrellas (in the international competition, which I’ll be commenting on only after my jury has arrived at its decisions)–and my puzzlement continues after seeing it a second time today with a public audience. Or, in a different vein, that the audiences here seem to be going in a big way for a forgettable bit of trivia like the previously noted UPA! Will they also go for a film like Raul Perrone’s Canada? (The likely answer–if it’s like Perrone’s other personal and intuitively structured films–is “no.”) Is a BAFICI even possible if there’s no film culture in Argentina, as some make a powerful case? When, as I mentioned previously, I witness the audiences in sheer mass in BAFICI vs. the relatively paltry crowds in Mexico City and Guadalajara, I have to think there is one. But what if they support only bad films–as is almost always the case in the U.S.?
And what of Raya Martin? How to even fathom this indefinable artist, each of whose three films are works of art of the highest order, each entirely different from the others and each made with a rigorously personal aesthetic? Having noted his first film, Island at the End of the World, which I now understand he may have made as a teenager, I happened to see his next two films–A Short Film About the Indio Nacional and Autohystoria–in the reverse order they were made. I’m too fresh to Indio to even write about it coherently; I’ve emailed Martin (who’s currently at home and unable to attend BAFICI) to help explain such details as the peculiar and possibly unprecedented nature of the film’s score, which is actually different each time the film is projected, played with a set of CD tracks selected by Martin. (For example, tonight’s screening had a strangely compelling ultra-romantic score that sounded like something out of the 1930s, including what sounded like Tagalog vocals. One 2006 screening, possibly in Rotterdam, had a score that was more Chopinesque.) Closing credits citing two Filipino historical texts were impossible to scribble down in my notes, though I suspect that the texts are helpful to provide further historical context to the film. I await Martin’s reply.
But in the meantime, I’m overwhelmed with the sense that I’ve seen something like the future of cinema. To watch Martin’s films, combined with the mind-altering experience of drinking in (one doesn’t merely watch) Lav Diaz’s epics like Evolution of a Filipino Family and last year’s John Torres triumph,Todo Todo Teros (which should be at BAFICI but isn’t)–while not having seen the films of Khavn, who’s also a prolific musician–it’s impossible not to conclude that not only is the rising talk of a “new Filipino cinema” not hype, but the term tends to be reductive. Watching this group–and they ARE a group, working on each other’s films,even playing in each other’s bands–has to closely match the sensation of being a filmgoer in 1959, and watching the French nouvelle vague explode. In the absence of a formal film culture (the only film journal of note, and a very fine one, is Criticine (www.criticine.com), to which the aforementioned filmmakers have contributed articles and interviews), genuinely independent filmmakers have decided to make one instead.
Martin’s Autohystoria is easily the year’s most radical and astonishing film at this point in the calendar, and it’s beyond imagining to think that anything at Cannes will touch it. (Of course, we did have, at Cannes and in competition last year, Martin’s favorite film of 2006, Costa’s Colossal Youth.) So let’s just call it the film of the first half of 2007, and then see what happens. It starts with a 37-minute handheld tracking shot, looking across the street at a man walking several blocks down the sidewalks of two noisy boulevards in Manila. The duration is Diaz-like, but the conception is entirely more sinister, and, in the greater context of the film as a whole, deeply tragic. Walking ever so steadily and without barely a pause, he seems to be on a mission, but when he arrives at the apartment building that was his destination, no one is home and he appears stuck. The camera itself keeps several yards away–it never even crosses the street with him–lending the mise en scene the quality of stalking prey, and the darker sense that what we’re seeing is a death march. The film’s soundtrack overwhelms the ear with traffic noise, which reaches a fever pitch in the next shot (lasting twelve minutes),observing a major roundabout intersection in the city and a large war monument in the center island. (The visual pun of a frozen battle scene in a concrete island seems altogether pointed for a film set in an archipelago.) Traffic flows by uninterested in the monument itself, and police cars scream past. Two shots follow (six and three minutes, in that order) inside one of these cop cars, showing the first close-ups of two arrested young men who seem to be brothers. They’re both visibly terrified–too terrified to utter a sound.
Autohystoria then makes one of the more dramatic elliptical jumps in recent cinema, in which the brothers are cuffed together by strips of cloth and being followed by an unseen force or menace (soon, it’s apparent that these are state security police), whose point of view the camera adopts. Indeed, until a startling shot in the jungle that happens several minutes on, each shot has carried with it some weight of having been viewed by a menace, surveillance or police authority, and here the film has interesting connections with Todo Todo Teros, which also ponders and visualizes the activities of a state security apparatus, and the paranoia that flows from this set of visual constructs. The danger is further heightened by the sight of blood on both brothers, and obvious signs of torture and beating. At one point in the jungle–the traffic noise is a long-distant memory at this point–one of the brothers faces the camera and asks: “Are you going to shoot us?” It has to be the most disturbing line of dialogue in any film I’ve heard in some time, deepening the gnawing sense that the camera itself is a weapon.
And yet, just as Martin appears to be making a larger inquiry into the uses and abuses of the camera as a tool of invasion and even murder, he throws his gaze to nature, and a series of landscapes drenched in impossible beauty. His gaze pauses, allowing the eye to watch how a wave of misty clouds curling over the cliffside of a ridge dissipates as the day’s sun takes hold. Like Albert Serra granting the viewer access and temporal liberty to watch the moon actually rise and move through the night sky in Honor of the Knights, Martin takes measure of nature as it is, and places it directly adjacent–and abutting–the human savagery just witnessed. More mysterious (and perhaps Martin can shed light on this as well) are the film’s final graphics and images; one graphic notes: “Aguinaldo’s Navy, 4/18/1902 American Mutoscope and Biograph Co.” and the final images are the newsreel footage that graphics identifies, of a naval force and land army marching. The clips are from one of three Biograph-produced films, all shot in 1900. Martin selected shots of the force led by Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, who declared an independent Filipino republic on January 1, 1899. War soon broke out between the new republic and the U.S., which had been governing the islands for some time like an American colony. Autohystoria thus ends in revolution, albeit a revolution that failed.
The film language and syntax here is something entirely new. Each shot is a discrete element unto itself, and yet provides connective tissue to the next shot. It contains both montage and what one might call “panels” rather than conventionally edited shots. It collapses documentary and narrative, not only in terms of questioning what’s actual and fiction on screen, but in terms of history: Are we seeing something in the present, or perhaps something from the past? As in A Short Film, history is used as a character in an wondrously nuanced fashion–Quintin agreed with me that Hou Hsiao Hsien’s incorporation of history into his narratives is the only comparable model, but here, the expression of that incorporation is much more radical. Drama, just when it feels completely drained from the film, delivers a stunning blow. Beauty, just when it seems the last thing possible, floods the eye and ear. The film, in a matter of some twelve shots, has taken us from contemporary Manila to the primordial forest and back in time. I can’t fathom how this was achieved, but it’s sheer astonishment is one of BAFICI 2007′s great gifts–and a suggestion that Rotterdam (where the film premiered) still very much matters… - Robert Koehler

Andres Bonifacio, who founded and initially headed the Philippine revolution, and his younger brother Procopio were executed by the men of Emilio Aguinaldo, who continued to fight against the Spanish and later the Americans and became the first president of the Philippines, for allegedly conniving to topple Aguinaldo's leadership. The execution is a mere footnote in Philippine history; it's a big glaring hole that is merely filled with assumptions and hypotheses by different history scholars. In Autohystoria, filmmaker Raya Martin tries to create his own version of the story (thus, the "auto" and the "history" in the title), but instead comes up with something else, a gripping masterful artwork that works in so many levels --- as a linear retelling of a forgotten historical anecdote, as a nightmare, as a commentary on the many powers of filmmaking, and much more (thus, the "hysteria" in the title).
It opens with a tracking shot where the camera follows a man from across a street. Shot in black and white analog video (the rest of the film is in digital video), it partakes of the aesthetic of a surveillance video; the quality is obviously diminished and you can observe the color stains in the edges of the frame. The man in the video is being watched as the camera moves conspicuously and always right across the street (at one point, the man crosses the street but he doesn't notice the camera and continues to cross to the other side). The man enters a house and a few seconds later, the lights downstairs are turned on, and a few more seconds later, the lights upstairs are turned on. Another man goes out of the house to wait outside. What is the man doing inside the house, and why the need to walk all the way there (when there's an abundance of public transportation like jeepneys, taxis and pedicabs in that busy avenue)?
These questions that arise, I think, aren't merely assigned to the viewer but are also assigned to the invisible man holding the surveillance camera. In that sense, the viewers become the spies. That urgency enlarges as the curiosity about the man's activities widen. The sequence is followed by a lengthy still shot of an imposing structure which bears the statue of the Katipunan, the revolutionary group Bonifacio founded to rebel against the Spanish surrounded by a busy rotunda. There's a frustrating sense of redundancy in the shot as cars are circling around the monument without a notice. Is that the purpose of history, to serve as an uninspiring centerpiece to a busy rotunda, presumably ad infinitum?
We see a man wearing a tie-dyed shirt struggling in his seat. Beside him is a boy wearing his high school uniform in a tearful resolution of his known fate. We can see the outside of the moving vehicle; a row of stores in a numbing loop; later we become aware that the vehicle is circling the rotunda over and over again. The two men are clearly Martin's reincarnation of the two Bonifacios and their fate is obvious, they are to be executed (the modernity of the setting alludes to several theories since there is no more Katipunan (except for the famous avenue that leads to the country's premiere state university): for what crime are they to be executed, terrorism, and rebellion?). The more pertinent question however is why are they perpetually circling the rotunda that bears the statue of Filipino revolutionaries?
The moon holds its gaze as we are transported to a jungle. The camera follows the two captured men who are now bruised and injured walking in complete darkness. The ambient noise grips you entirely; Martin's film can't be considered contemplative as it doesn't allow contemplation; it grabs you immediately and puts you right in the middle of the terrifying event. Like the first tracking shot, the camera becomes a character (in the middle of the torturous sequence, the elder brother talks to the camera "are you going to shoot us?"), as the executor. Martin eases the tension with scenes of nature, of the green mountainside that invites the dawn or the running brook that is met with calming daylight, but the terror retains its effect and the serene blanket of nature's beauty can't simply erase the images of the two men awaiting their fate.
Martin's camera has dual roles, as a character to the ensuing events (it pits the audience as a conspirator to the treachery) and as recorder of the events (which assumes the responsibility of recreating lost history). The film ends with a couple of vignettes of Aguinaldo's navy, borrowed by Martin from the archives of American Mutoscope and Biograph Co.. It caps the story, from the surveillance to the capture to the execution and the leadership of Aguinaldo of the Philippine Revolution; it really is a coherent linear tale.
Yet it's also Martin's nightmare, the way history is recreated through the objects of contemporary Philippines. The two men here are clearly not the Bonifacio brothers, they are probably Martin's friends; the initial tracking shot isn't really a surveillance of a man conspiring to commit a rebellion, it's just a man walking a few blocks to visit a friend; the torture scenes in the forest is a myriad of many things: of Martin's everyday experiences in this contemporary metropolis, of the knowledge of the Bonifacio brothers' execution, of the current state of Philippine security (made more prominent by the passing of the Human Security Act by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, and the many reports of terrorist attacks in television and newspapers), of this nation's worsening historical depletion.
There are no pretenses or borrowed aesthetics (it is certainly different from Lav Diaz's languid long takes as Martin's visuals is entirely personal, entirely his own; raw, crude, but his cinema hardly requires any semblance of prettiness) in Autohystoria. Martin is only in his early twenties but has made three feature films (Martin's first two features are Island at the End of the World (2005), about the Ivatans of Batanes who are separated from the rest of the nation including its history and homogenized culture by geography and climate, and Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipinos), 2006), an experiment in recreating Filipino life preceding the Philippine revolution through elegantly composed silent film vignettes) that are vastly different in tone and mood, but are graced with one common element --- a mature sense of history, aching and begging to exist. - oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/

Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) (2005)
English Title: A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipinos)

Southeast Asian is an oft neglected region in cinema. Outside the confines of your typical J-horror rip-offs or the usual stunt extravaganzas, Southeast Asia probably has the most progressive and most interesting films that are produced. Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul uses cinema to mystify social and cultural issues and institutions without alienating audiences. Pen-ek Ratanaruang borrows Western conventions to mirror Thailand in its present state of disconnect. The most maverick of all Southeast Asian filmmakers is Lav Diaz, an auteur who foregos conventions of commercially imposed running times in favor of real time immersion leading to a fully comprehensible reckoning of his themes. Probably the most promising of these young filmmakers is Raya Martin, who at 22, has already made one masterpiece, Maicling pelicula nañg ysañg indio nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan).
Raya Martin's film can be divided into two parts. The first part, or the prologue, is in color and is accompanied by the ambient sound of crickets and dogs barking. The prologue focuses on a woman who is having a hard time sleeping. The woman's inability to sleep is difficult to watch. Her sleeping troubles connote an impossible burden that her conscience is battling with, causing her to conclude that resting is a luxury, or even a sin. She wakes her husband and begs for a story. The husband tells his wife a story about a young boy who meets an old man who is carrying a coffin. The old man asks the boy if he can help him bury the coffin, which supposedly contains the remains of all the fake leaders who poisoned the land. The boy scoffs which makes the old man reveal himself as the Philippines. The monologue of the husband is prolonged and very emotional. The storytelling session is as painful to watch and listen to as the wife squirming in her mat, troubled and unable to sleep. The lamp dies and the second part of the film begins.
The second part is a series of silent film vignettes, accompanied by a live piano recital of works by Schumann, Chopin, Ligeti, Beethoven and Mozart. The vignettes hint of a plot regarding a church bel lringer who is joked by his peers as to which side is he on. The vignettes also follow the story of a teenager who signs up to become a member of the Philippine Revolution. He becomes disappointed upon dreaming of a sunrise for his beloved nation which urges him to go into battle not knowing that such attack was in fact, postponed. The second part ends with the story of a young barrio actor who spends most of his time rehearsing for a Spanish play while the barrio is in the midst of war. Interspersed within these negligible stories are scenes of the everyday actualities of rural life during the time of the Philippine Revolution. Interestingly, these scenes are mostly about religion, revolution, and death. The film ends in a sudden, and suggestively pessimistic note.
The film is an imperfect yet tremendous piece of work by a promising artist. While the second part hints of whimsical, almost humorous tales and adventures of the young pre-revolution Filipino, it is also suggestive of the Filipinos' lack of identity, of its fickle-mindedness, which brings about a fate of prolonged sorrow. The film is elliptical. It begins with prolonged woe, with the wife's troubles and the husband's suggested sorrowful past, continues with a recounting of history, and ends with a conclusion of a nation's destiny of sadness. Martin is of an age group of Filipinos who have been deprived of history. History is merely learned through schooling, through books whose own sources are questionable results of centuries of colonial rule. Simply put, Martin is of an age where the history learned is the history of the privileged. The heroes of the Philippine Revolution are the illustrados, the wealthy, the learned and the titled. The indios (commoners) are merely pawns, foot soldiers of a revolution that led to the nation's supposed freedom from the clutches of colonialism. But has the nation outgrown its colonial masters when its own history is clouded by foreign historians who have neglected the stories of the common folk? Martin, through the film, has visualized his belief that ours is a nation that is bereft of a national identity. He fashions a film that could have been made by any native Filipino, if handed a video camera while in the midst of the Philippine Revolution. He will not capture the drafting of treaties or the promulgation of constitutions or other grandiose moments in written history. Instead, he will capture are the ordinary, the droll and mundane, non-effects of the War. There will be an abundance of religious articles, simply because that is what he was force-fed with. There will be numerous deaths, because that is the logical repercussion of poverty and slavery. There will be humorous sketches that display the Filipinos' ignorance and deprivation of knowledge.
That is the magic of Martin's work. It is a recreation of a past that was never recorded. In a depressing note though, the deprivation of such and the reliance on written history based on the actions of the privileged is what made this nation what it is now: sorrowful, impoverished and in the verge of being hopeless, hence, the title: the prolonged sorrow of the Filipinos
"A Short Film About Being Filipino" By: Noel Vera (Critic After Dark, 24 July 2007


No pongso do tedted no mondo: Ang isla sa dulo ng mundo / The Island at the End of the World (2005)

Of the several “retros & focus” sections that BAFICI has organized this year–organizers swore to me weeks ago that they would trim down from last year’s bulging 15 or so retrospectives, but being true cinephiles, they simply couldn’t help themselves, and have arranged 19 for our viewing pleasure–I most want to catch the surveys of Luc Moullet, Malaysian filmmaker Ho Yuhang and 23-year-old Filipino artist Raya Martin. Now, 23 seems like an awfully young age to have a retrospective, but as I noted to Quintin earlier today, BAFICI appears to be in the mood to select filmmakers with three features under their belt: Not only Martin, but also Ho and that jolly Godardian Canadian, Reg Harkema (of whom more later).
Martin and Ho are among those from both countries who are hotly under pursuit by festival programmers and East Asian film lovers alike, since it’s become quickly apparent over the last year of the festival circuit that both the Philippines and Malaysia are becoming homes to critical masses of young, extremely independent filmmakers (most of whom work mostly in digital video, though not exclusively so). I can speak better at this point on the Filipino situation, since I’ve yet to see the several Malay films that have hit the scene, most prominently in Rotterdam. The Dragons & Tigers jury I served on last year at the Vancouver film festival opted for one of Martin’s bright and original contemporaries–John Torres, and his dreamy, fleecy doc-turned-fiction-turned-doc, Todo Todo Teros. The Èminence grise, so to speak, for both Torres, Martin and others like Khavn is Lav Diaz, who makes some of the longest films currently on the planet; his Evolution of a Filipino Family ultimately clocked in at around 11 hours, though I may be missing an hour or two. Diaz’ syntax is for a radical revision of plan-sequence, with frequently static shots that can last up to 20 minutes or more, and yet are stuffed with temporal excitement and even historical and cultural information.
In Martin’s case, his first full-length work, The Island at the End of the World, seemed to have begun as more of a project than a proper film, and yet its development into a quietly powerful study of Itbayat, one of the archipelago’s northernmost isles (and one of its most isolated) is part and parcel of the filmmaking process itself. I speculated afterwards that Martin may have structured his video documentary (filmed with a light DV-cam in the summer of 2004, when Martin was around 20 years old) in roughly the chronology in which it was shot; he and his camera arrive on the island by bi-plane, and then start exploring the people and the landscape, and, each step along the way, the journey itself lends greater meaning to the entire work.
Some of my Argentine colleagues, including Diego Lerer, chief film critic for the Buenos Aires daily, Clarin, disagreed, noting that Island is structured in such a way that we watch various jobs practiced by Itbayat’s residents, each job given a discrete section of its own. In the end, it’s difficult to tell whether the film was more deliberately constructed along the lines Diego suggests, or matching the process of a visitor’s discovery as I saw it. It may also be some combination of the two; in any case, work and labor are indeed central subjects of a film ostensibly about an island more often than not cut off from direct contact with other Filipino islands, and because of Martin’s unquenchable curiosity and generosity, his open interest in how these residents live their lives literally consumes his film.
Memories of the fisherman in Visconti’s La terra trema flood back to the mind when watching extended sequences of the island’s fisherman hauling in their catch or struggling to simply dock their tiny wooden boats in hellaciously choppy waters along rocky shorelines. Quintin rightly observed that Martin certainly earned the locals’ respect and must have lived among them long enough with his camera in tow that, by the time he films them, there’s not a drop of visible self-consciousness of the camera’s presence. The effect is of a kind of pure, immediate naturalism, impelled by energetic curiosity and drive, creating a strange, gorgeous sense of a visitation. Martin never hides or lies about his outsider’s status, nor does this seep into alienation. Instead, Island provides a record of moments as they actually happened, unfettered and sympathetic without the slightest whiff of cloying attitude. I look forward immensely to his next film in the retro, his fiercely debated 2006 A Short Film About the Indio Nacional. Go, Filipinos….

Essential Argentine film of BAFICI (so far, it being only Day 4!): Rafael Filippelli’s exquisite Musica nocturna. No less than the current (Fernando Peña) and most recent (Quintin) directors of BAFICI inform me that Filippelli, nearly 70 with fairly few films–mostly documentaries–to his credit, has never before made a film approaching this one. There is something both startlingly new for Argentine cinema in M˙sica, while a sense of graceful maturity and the illusion of effortless craftsmanship marks it as something almost classical.
What’s new is a style that beautifully blends an unapologetically intellectual and highly civilized perspective on art–actor (and sometimes director) Enrique Piñeyro plays a creatively blocked author, while actor Silvia Arazi plays his cynical, burned-out playwright-wife–and a rigorously objective mise en scene of such painful beauty that I haven’t seen on screen since the unjustly barely-seen German films of Sohrab Shaheed Saless. Filippelli’s characters are upper middle-class, middle-aged flâneurs, wandering the nighttime streets of Buenos Aires (the city has never, repeat never, looked so sweetly nocturnal and even–do I risk a touristic faux pas here?–Parisian, and I include the magnificent nighttime sequences in Adolfo Aristarain’s masterpiece, Roma), mixing talk of personal concerns and art matters together in a magnificent jumble of half-sentences, mini-thoughts, barely formed arguments, and impulsive utterances for which there may be no turning back once they’re uttered.
There are too many moments to itemize in a film that runs barely 80 minutes, but a few stick in my head right now: Piñeyro standing at his apartment balcony looking down on the street below at no thing in particular, while a Schubert sonata (the same heartbreaking one used by Bresson at the end of Au hasard Balthazar), leaving the balcony to go inside, coming back out, leaving again, coming back out (what is he doing? living); Arazi and a novelist friend played by Horacio Acosta walking around the deep, deep late night streets, speculating on what it’s like to go to school reunions, and what he thinks of Piñeyro’s work-in-progress; Piñ;eyro sidling up to an elderly gentleman at a bar, and sliding into a discussion about how good story ideas can come from newspaper articles; and, choicest of all, the final scene at home between Piñeyro and Arazi, which is the most realistic depiction of a married couple that I’ve seen on screen since Cassavetes.
The pair have tired of each other, and yet somehow barely tolerate each other in the way of tired, old friends. They lightly tussle over what to play on the CD (and this says everything about the film’s cultural reference points): Olivier Messiaen’s piece written in the concentration camps, or a 16th century choral work. Another day passes, and Piñeyro’s author is no closer to finishing his book. Is there a crisis? No. Instead, there’s a strange sort of peace that descends over Musica nocturna, and long before it’s over. Piñeyro speaks on the soundtrack of how, in listening to music, he learned from Beethoven that all art that matters contains an essential abstraction that remains, like a granite-hard kernel. The film’s speculations and its very nature are of a part in this regard.
I thought afterwards that this is the film I had always hoped for from Ingmar Bergman and never saw: A mature contemplation of contemporary civilized people, but stripped of the psychoses, neuroses, psychology and obsessions on God’s existence that often weighed on Bergman’s films, and created a superstructure that was an elaborate distraction from this couple over here, in this corner, having this interesting if frustrated life together. Why don’t we simply film that? This is what Filippelli has done… - filmjourney.weblogger.com/

By Antoine Thirion
Discovering Raya Martin’s work inevitably went hand in hand with questions about his age. People were impressed that such a young director (he was born in Manila in 1984) hadn’t used short films as a simple springboard for features, but dared to lay the foundations for several trilogies: one about cinema (Now Showing, 2008; Next Attraction, 2008), the other about Filipino colonial history (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, 2005; Independencia, 2009). From an early age, Martin was able to combine, in always-inventive forms, personal history and national history, filming one to rave against the other, as in the title of one of his best movies, Autohystoria (2007).
Of course, these questions of age are relative, and Martin laughed at them a lot. Recently, he posted a personal message on the internet, by way of a teaser for The Great Cinema Party, a film being made for the 2012 edition of the Jeonju Digital Project: a young boy was talking in his place, with the embarrassed expression of a contestant on American Idol. It’s with children of that age, such as the young girl in Now Showing or the boy in Independencia, that the director has often empathized. Indeed, it’s tempting to see his movies as coming-of-age novels. They are packed with scenes where the hero, still in childhood, freezes for a moment in front of a landscape wherein can be read the great expectations of a future as glorious as it is still incomprehensible. Often in Martin’s works, young heads topple backwards, lost in the fascination of images with cosmic power. But it isn’t so much learning the moral hardening that must be acquired by those who were born into a history sapped by colonization, bombings, and aborted revolutions. Instead of hopes, they have to take into account a country that is still in ruins.
There’s no Filipino director who can deny that he’s trying to portray the particularly tragic condition of their people. But only Martin has succeeded in advancing a contemporary image, solidly set in the present yet permanently floating between ages. The mixture of fantasy and determination, of naiveté and irony necessary (as in the exotic colonial/Hollywood pastiche of Independencia) is only his. Going through the history of cinema in all directions, from the Lumières to war archives, from Tarkovsky to The Simpsons, from Mike de Leon to The Blair Witch Project (1999), he has already been able to find the steps of his country’s protective characters who left to discover the world, but never forgot the glorious future to which they should always aspire. - cinema-scope.com/

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What comes at the end of cinema?

Not what comes after cinema—a good question for marketing gurus like Spielberg and Lucas and Cameron to lock themselves in a room and argue until they expire, choked on their own hot air—but right there at the end, in death tranquil or terrifying or both, as the movies take stock of a lifetime of failures (and, okay, more than a few successes). As a moment, it’s the end of both the particular (the last movie) and the universal (the cinema): the world-as-projector clicking senselessly onward, the projectionist long gone (or maybe never around to begin with), and the cinema-as-film caught in the stasis of perpetual motion, run through, ass-end slapping ceaselessly toward disintegration against its one true companion. When that delivery finally comes in the form of a complete formal breakdown—the comfortable order of the classical style churned into a maelstrom of frames and pixels (cf. Film socialisme [2010])—will the unifying force of Bazin’s trusty old ontology hold? “Now, for the first time, the image of things is likewise the image of their duration, change mummified as it were.” If one accepts that the cinema will come to an end before the world does (i.e., as long as there’s still duration; figuring out what comes after duration is the real question of what comes after cinema), then there’s no reason to think otherwise—even a radically decentred cinema, one whose tatters are sent flying off in infinite directions, both analogue and digital, would still hold together around this core of mummified change. It might finally be a real big bang for the movies, which is to say that as long as there’s a world, what comes at the end of cinema isn’t an end at all: it’s cinema.

- Phil Coldiron on Raya Martin and Mark Peranson's La última película (2013) [pdf]

The year 2012 was, for most of humanity, a waiting game. The Mayans predicted the world's end. Riots sprouted. Floods happened. Scandals erupted. It seemed the Mayans spoke true, but there was still no assurance that the world was on the verge of its own demise. Amidst the chaos produced by the world's hesitation to die, film was quietly performing its own disappearing trick. There were debates. Self-proclaimed vanguards of the cinematic arts were busy looking forward, confident of the continuation of the business despite the business' abandonment of its first medium. The rest, those oblivious to the business of movie-making, were subsisting on throes of nostalgia, scrambling for the last remaining reels of film and creating very personal odes to celluloid, on celluloid. 
The apocalypse happened. We were there to witness it. Film cameras were no longer being made. Analog projectors were no longer being used. Raya Martin, who stubbornly made films in celluloid when his comrades were shooting in digital, and Mark Peranson, editor of Cinema Scope, had the best view of cataclysm. In La última película, an impeccable collaboration between the two very outspoken cinephiles, they are seen viewing the apocalypse. Images of rampaging meteors and fiery explosions are superimposed on a peacefully starless night sky. Despite the spectacle, the two are quite withdrawn. It's just another show. 
La última película, for all its brash self-consciousness, is neither nostalgic nor dismissive of that foregone era. It masks its melancholy with sarcasm, bleeding incessantly from the antics and bickerings of a filmmaker (Alex Ross Perry) and his Mexican guide (Gabino Rodriguez), who are in Yucatan to scout locations for what is planned to be the last film ever made. 
When melancholy manages to escape the clutches of Martin and Peranson's intellectual comedy, the pay-off is quite tremendous. The film within the film shows a woman visiting a departed loved one in the cemetery. She is singing a mournful song. What follows is a montage of random everyday oddities, all shot in celluloid, all beautifully textured. The sombre montage gives way to an abrupt change. We now see Martin and Peranson's film crew in high definition digital, shooting the film within the film. Peranson asks Gym Lumbera, his cinematographer, a question about shooting in celluloid. Lumbera then relates how he is certain that the film camera has stopped recording. He can hear it recording. Filmmaking has become too dolefully quiet. 
It all seems chaotic. La última película switches from one medium to another, seemingly without rhyme or reason. The images from the various media, edited together exposing their individual merits and faults, can either incite further or end the debate that has been hounding the film community since digital started replacing celluloid. While the film is quiet towards its biases, it nevertheless feels like film's rightful valediction. 
La última película elucidates the flurry of emotions surrounding what was the cinematic apocalypse. It is best viewed as a relic from a recent past, a foregone era, an enigmatic museum piece. It is that bewildering but very enjoyable artifact of how all the talk on the state of cinema has become so absurdly serious and seriously absurd. With a wondrous marriage of self-importance and self-irreverence, La última película succeeds in being everything it sets out to be, an often frustrating but always joyous celebration of cinema. 
In La última película's final scene, shot in red-tinted celluloid tinted, Perry's fervent filmmaker rows a boat down an anonymous river. Martin, who has experimented with the physical aspect of film and as a result produced works of astounding and profound ingenuity like Ars Colonia (where a conquistador's exploration of a new land literally explodes with marker pen-colored fireworks), again does with film what otherwise cannot be done with pixels. The red hue slowly consumes the entire frame, leaving only indiscernible traces of the filmmaker in a sea of crimson. What eventually surfaces is something else, something reminiscent of what Martin and Peranson were looking at in the night sky. Meteorites are falling. This is the apocalypse. And the apocalypse is just beautiful.  - Oggs Cruz

Points of Renewal: On "La última película" with Raya Martin, Mark Peranson, & Kurt Walker

Co-directed by Mark Peranson and Raya Martin, La última película is several things at once: a documentary pretending to be fiction (and vice versa), a reflexively cinephillic ode to materiality, a deconstruction and/or exploration of disparate forms, a meditation on the (false) apocalypse of the world and cinema, and an (experimental) comedy. Its one-line synopsis is as follows: "a famous American filmmaker travels to the Yucatán to scout locations for his last movie. The Mayan Apocalypse intercedes." Inspired by Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie and its subsequent documentary cousin The American Dreamer (both 1971), La última película taps into a sort of artistic freedom of spirit, an all-too-rare ecstasy of moviemaking-as-adventuring. It is a manifesto by implication for the liberation of film from convention, and as thought and life. Starring American independent filmmaker Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Impolex) and Gabino Rodríguez (Greatest Hits, Together) as the filmmaker protagonist's Mexican guide, the film's ironic core is made up of the amusing observations and interactions between these two personalities, but the film continues to expand as it carries on, becoming a work of philosophy and poetry.
You can view behind-the-scenes footage of the film here. We also recommend checking out this piece by Phil Coldiron. For your amusement, here is a (perpetually growing) list of cinematic connections contained in the film.
The following conversation with Mark Peranson took place during the Vancouver International Film Festival in October rather late at night and after a mediocre party. Colleague, friend, and filmmaker Kurt Walker tagged along, camera in tow. A recently awakened Raya Martin joined in from Manila via Skype. The photographs contained herein are either those of the author, or behind-the-scenes images provided by the filmmakers.

Above: Peranson, Hopper, Martin.
ADAM COOK: Can you tell me about how the project came together?
RAYA MARTIN: DOX:LAB is a program run by the CPH:DOX Film Festival in Copenhagen where they match first and third world filmmakers to create something. They’ve been asking me to participate before, but I was a bit hesitant to work with someone like on a blind date. So finally I had the time to do it last year, and asked if I could pair up with someone I directly wanted to work with. When it was possible to work with Mark, technically a European, it was already a natural choice to do something very loosely around The Last Movie: he loves it, I love it, plus the world was about to end. It was cosmic, in a sense.
MARK PERANSON: —But you wanted to do something with this Danish music video director.
MARTIN: I also wanted to work with Martin de Thurah on something around and during the festival. I love how his music videos sometimes cross over video art. But that didn’t happen, everything was moving very fast.
PERANSON: That reminds me, Animal Collective was playing in Copenhagen during CPH:DOX last year and we were going to shoot a variation of the party scene from The Last Movie but with them.
MARTIN: Mark and I already wanted to do something during the festival, and there were bands who were playing there that we wanted to incorporate into the movie. The whole thing was very process oriented. We were going through how to reach the end of the world, thinking of what to shoot, who to collaborate with, etc… We were constantly researching and brainstorming until we reached the end of the world.
PERANSON: Raya wanted to shoot in Mexico but both of us didn’t want to shoot a documentary about the end of the world or the Mayan Apocalypse, on the face of it. So we thought about what’s the best way of dealing with finality, the end of the world and the end of cinema and it was a simple logical process—what are you going to do? What’s your last meal going to be? If you’re a cinephile, what’s the last movie you watch and if you’re a filmmaker what would be the last movie you remake? And I said, "why not The Last Movie...it’s called 'The Last Movie'." It was initially a bit of a joke, but the more that we thought about it, the more that it made sense. You like it, I like it. It was supposed to be shot in Mexico in the first place. It seemed like something that could be done on a certain scale and in an interesting fashion. Not to remake The Last Movie, however, as that was shot over a year and had an actual budget, but maybe to do an homage, to be influenced by something present in the superstructure…We had two months to put everything together.
COOK: You shot in seven days.
PERANSON: Seven and a half. It was about getting that spirit of The Last Movie and playing with the form. CPH:DOX encourages hybrid forms and mixing documentary and fiction together, which is also a development in contemporary cinema that I find interesting. Along with mixing reality and fantasy, The Last Movie is the first Hollywood film that incorporates Godardian elements.
COOK: Which is one reason why it failed.
PERANSON: There are a number of reasons but, yeah, one could say that Hollywood wasn’t ready for that level of experimentation at that point. Also in the process in research I came across The American Dreamer, which is the “documentary” shot during the editing of The Last Movie by Lawrence Schiller and Kit Carson, and when we saw that we thought we could kind of incorporate that too, it adds another layer. It’s an atypical example of a constructed documentary: Hopper is credited as the screenwriter, they staged most of the scenes, there’s a crazy folk score by John Buck Wilkin… One of the directors admitted, in the new biography of Hopper by Tom Folson, that they were trying to do Nanook of the North, but with Dennis Hopper, if you could imagine that. After it was done, Hopper hated it so much he suppressed it for a number of years. It’s easy to see why.
COOK: And you take some dialogue straight from it.
PERANSON: We asked Alex to record the entire voiceover of The American Dreamer, and one sequence has a variation of that voiceover, but the rest is a combination of things Hopper said and improvising a bit off of it. In the end it’s a mixture of what Hopper thought, what Alex feels, and what we feels. In The American Dreamer, Hopper is totally stoned and drunk, full himself, and not in control of what he’s doing and the idea was to do the same thing with Alex, and this tension between thinking that you’re in control but not being in control I think spreads out into our film in general. We got him drunk on tequila and to this day he doesn’t remember what he said.
COOK: It wasn’t scripted but there were guidelines.
PERANSON: Yeah, I was off camera guiding him to certain topics but he was also saying crazy things that he made up, which was great. We recorded him talking for about three hours, I guess, and by the end he was barely standing.
MARTIN: And Alex was already into The Last Movie
PERANSON: And he watched The American Dreamer the night before we did the interview so he knew what was going on, but as he got drunker and drunker it got crazier and crazier. In Toronto people thought we were only making fun of what he says—I don’t know about Raya, but I believe in some of it, and his romantic ideal of cinema and the power of cinema. The interesting thing about those interviews for me is they act as kind of a litmus test; well, the whole film is a kind of litmus or even a Rorschach test, but maybe the interviews are key to it. We’re taking post-'68 rhetoric and putting it into the present and the way people react to it exemplifies the inherent conservatism that exists today as opposed to ‘71, and in a way the whole film touches on that: the transformation of collective hippie life into that tourist post-rave Chichen Itza happening. Which the participants obviously believe in, but which Alex sees through cynical eyes. The interviews encapsulate issues of authenticity that were happening in the film and the relationship between control and improvisation, fact and fiction, which is engrained into the whole process of the film. The film in a way is about grasping at authenticity through inauthentic means. And to be clear, The Last Movie was only a starting point: it helped provide some structure and from that, we generated other ideas. We aren’t banking on viewers being so familiar with The Last Movie, and I’m sure that many haven’t even seen it. Some very perceptive things have been written about the film as a film in and of itself, as a romantic film about apocalypse, or Mexico, or cinema in general, by critics who haven’t seen The Last Movie. In fact, if we never mentioned The Last Movie or The American Dreamer I wonder how many people would even notice. Ideally it shouldn’t matter at all.
COOK: Alex sometimes says things you believe in literally, sometimes he’s saying things that are absurd, sometimes it's philosophically direct, but it mostly seems self-reflexive. The film’s cinephilic...but it’s a self-reflexive cinephilia. There’s always a questioning going on.
PERANSON: Yeah, the end of the world and the end of cinema are both events that are inherently absurd. No one thought the world was going to end. No one thinks cinema is really going to end.
COOK: It’s just changing.
PERANSON: Yeah, but you can’t make a film without some irony and sarcasm about those situations—but there is a truth to these changes. Someone told me the film was not like a funeral for cinema but a wake; let’s celebrate what’s happened so far and the potential for the future.
COOK: And even if there’s sarcasm and irony in the film, it’s doesn’t mean it’s not serious.
PERANSON: Someone commented that they appreciated the film because sarcasm is the mode of our time. For me, the film is also serious, and that there is no reason both can’t exist at the same time. As Kris Kristofferson sang about Dennis Hopper, it’s a walking contradiction.
MARTIN: I think the film was a good balance of staying in between. It’s hard to know how to react… You’re just about to laugh and then you realize something’s philosophical, so how do you assess that? I love the genre of Experimental LOL. ExperimentaLOL. It’s both. [Laughs]
COOK: For me there are two tracks in the film. The one set by Alex and his presence, which is sort of automatically funny, even when he’s being serious, and then there’s the formal track of the film, the formal discourse. They’re simultaneous, not necessarily in agreement. It’s this interaction I find interesting, and when the film’s being funny it’s also doing something else, often through the choice of format.
PERANSON: From the beginning we had an idea to have three parts of the film, but even within that it gets complicated. There’s a few ways to legitimize using different formats. One is this contemporary nature of the film, which is that it couldn’t have been made two years ago and two years from now, if someone was to shoot something like this, it would be very different. But also we wanted to shoot fiction scenes as fiction, fiction scenes as documentary, documentary scenes as documentary, and documentary scenes as fiction. So, how you do that is through staging, mise en scène, and the use of celluloid. For example, the transformation from first to second reel when after the credits they leave to go to the city streets of Izamal. You don’t know what exactly is happening at that point, in that transition. The first reel is kind of like documentary and only some of it is like the scene at the ruins in Xcambo where that guy just came up and started talking to us, but when the other scenes are fictional but shot the same way. But when you cut to Izamal, which is shot on 16mm it feels like we’re in a movie now. Is this the film they’re making? Is this a continuation of the documentary part? The idea was to confuse reality and fiction constantly.
COOK: The viewer has to constantly reassess what they’re seeing.
PERANSON: You don’t want to be too crazy, we want it to have structure—
MARTIN: —I think it was clear in the beginning about the structure we wanted and not to lose it.
COOK: Going back to Mark saying the film couldn’t be made two years ago or two years from now, or would be technologically different—
PERANSON: —not just the technology but also the impetus of the film, and it was the last chance to finish it on 35mm. The film stems from a historical, technological foundation that exists at this moment.
COOK: Which reminds me of what Paul Schrader said about how we’ve entered a state of perpetual technological innovation that will never allow cinema to settle down and catch up again—unlike with sound or color, digital introduces a rapid succession of changes so that cinema will always be restless and every year will be different, it will never catch up with itself again.

PERANSON: The way I relate to that in the film, it has a lot do with consuming and producing images and that we’re in a state where we consume images at a greater rate than ever before and produce images at a greater rate than ever before—I don’t know if we’ve reached a peak of consumption but we haven’t reached a peak for production, which is going up at a higher rate. There may be a point where these reach each other and maybe that could be the end of the world—when a society is producing and consuming images at the same rate. The idea of consumption is in the film a lot, with the Noma [the film contains a section shot at the world famous restaurant] stuff—
COOK: —It’s like a motif, with the garbage, the food—
PERANSON: Exactly. People are just throwing their TVs on the ground and moving onto the next best technology…. I don’t know if Schrader is right though. One of the interesting technological changes that will happen is the idea of shooting pretty much every single angle of a scene at the same time without moving the camera or reshooting, it’ll all be constructed in the editing room. This what they use reconstructing crime scenes now where you can see every angle. The beauty of art though is in the accidents, the variations, variables, and mistakes. Who wants perfection? It’s useless. Anyone can make a perfect film now. Just give someone an Alexa and $50,000, they don’t even need a DP.
COOK: If your film is purposefully imperfect, how much rhyme and reason is there to the formal chaos, choosing what to shoot with what and when?
MARTIN: We organized it before shooting. We knew how we wanted to approach things. For example, if you shoot on digital, then we’d be playing with a documentary feel. But for the movie part, we knew we wanted to shoot on 16mm. Mark, how was it again with breaking down the digital parts?
PERANSON: We shot with multiple cameras at the same time for almost every scene. There were hardly any scenes that we only shot on 16mm. A lot of times when we were in a location we would also shoot two different scenes, a location scouting scene, say, and a “last movie” scene. Some places we couldn’t shoot on 16mm, like in the ruins, where you aren’t allowed to set up tripods because you’re on holy ground.
COOK: And were you both in charge of different cameras?
PERANSON: In general, Raya and Gym Lumbera [the film's cinematographer] worked with the 16mm camera, which was a Bolex (and broke and had to be replaced on the fourth day), Paco Ohem, our camera assistant, with the main digital camera, a Panasonic AF100, which I helped him a little with, Raya would sometimes shoot with a DSLR, usually a Canon 550D, and I’d be shooting with an iPhone. Editing wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it also was easier because of the 16mm: once we decided how we wanted to use it, and how to structure the film around it, then we could decide which digital footage worked in which context. We often just went with what we liked. After the screening last night, someone told me he stopped noticing the format changes after a while, he became oblivious to it, which blows my mind.
MARTIN: I think the 35mm helped a lot [the film was blown up to 35, which is how it was presented in Vancouver].
COOK: It smooths things out, equalizes the formats a bit more. Whereas when I saw it digitally it was more pronounced.
PERANSON: The ironic thing in the process is that the film footage sticks out more with digital projection. And on film the digital is more film-like. Nobody in five years is going to be blowing up digital to 35mm. The other thing in regards to division of labor: I worked with the actors, but as things continued, our positions evolved and things switched around. Having two directors on set was really helpful in terms of shooting what we needed to shoot in the little time that we had. We were shooting three locations in a day that were nowhere near each other, and there was no production management and no actual script, and we had time constraints in certain places, so at times we could split up and figure out what to shoot next also.
COOK: I understand you guys were mostly on the same page on the film and what you wanted it to be, but were there differences in how you each approached it practically and philosophically.
PERANSON: We were creatively on the same page but maybe Raya is more in tune with the cosmic elements than I am. Lots of what Raya does in his other work relates to film history, and coming from my background as a critic, seeing film as something related to criticism was there. When we actually were shooting, things went smoothly. Any question can have an aesthetic answer or a pragmatic answer and both are valid because filmmaking is a series of problems to solve. It’s like the Welles line about filmmaking being presiding over accidents, a line Welles stole from Cocteau, by the way, who said filmmaking was 95% accidents.
MARTIN: I think because I’m not really a writer, Mark was more attuned to the “script” of the movie, and I was less careful, less attentive to that side of things. During the shoot, I was more concentrated on staging and enabling an atmosphere for the actors.

 Above: Perry, Rodriguez on set
COOK: Why Alex Ross Perry for this role?
PERANSON: I knew that he and Gabino [Rodriguez] would work well together. We knew he was smart, knew films, was funny, and was into it. He’s also quite professional on set. When you put in an American in that role you get different connotations, you’d highlight the colonialist aspects. Raya is not so keen on hyping the colonial stuff, though.
MARTIN: I think it’s overrated [laughs]. But yes, he’s a filmmaker and a cinephile. He’s a major part of setting the mood for the film.
KURT WALKER: To interject, do you think there’s a connection to Perry’s cinema in all of this? I’m reminded of Impolex and the ruptures that tie your guys’ films together. In some ways, La última película ends up resembling what an Alex Ross Perry film about the apocalypse could look like...
PERANSON: I think both films have similar influences. It was David Davidson who made the great comparison of Alex’s monologues being similar to those of Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow in the empty cinema at the end of the world. Impolex is heavily inspired by Gravity’s Rainbow. Perry's cinema wasn’t as much of an influence as someone like Godard, who has made more films than Alex [laughs]. Or Dennis Hopper, of course.
MARTIN: There is a sense of spirit though, a sense of a dying band of outsiders making a film.
COOK: There are a lot of references in the film, at least according to the IMDb page.
PERANSON: Most of those are invented, or films that other people have seen reflected in our film; there are few direct homages. And ultimately, maybe it becomes a kind of détournement of The Last Movie. For The Last Movie scenes, which for the most part are almost throw-away moments in the original film, we tried not to reconstruct them but to transpose them, like the cenote scene is a transposition of the scene with Hopper under the waterfall with his girlfriend and instead of the priest walking by with the kids there are the scuba divers in the background. But to point to one direct reference, for me, also, the windmill is an Apocalypse Now reference. Raya can talk about Apocalypse Now too, which was shot in the Philippines. I kept filming the ceiling fans where we were staying but it was too obvious. The windmill opens the third part of the film, which can also be read as a “post-apocalyptic” section.
COOK: But you show it stop, the fan keeps going in Apocalypse Now
MARTIN: Because cinema is dead!
COOK: Well, with the whole "cinema is dead" concept, the film has this reflexive view we’ve discussed, but 35mm is really dying, at least economically. Your film has both optimistic and pessimistic elements, almost fighting or resisting each other. How do you see it or yourselves, as optimistic or pessimistic?
MARTIN: There will always be ways to make it end but I don’t know where I stand. There’s always going to be a point of renewal. Let’s say even if they generally phase out shooting on film, there will always be a niche to continue this sort of practice. I think it’s more of like keeping the momentum going, keeping it alive, talking about it more, shooting. It stays alive, it’s a collective resuscitation, then it dies.
PERANSON: I’m generally pessimistic about film culture. All of it: film criticism, production, distribution, etc. But I think there will always be people who feel the need to react and to revolt, to do something that’s different. It’s something that’s always happened in history and will always continue. The real issue in terms of this film so far, and similar films that are pushed aside and aren’t mainstream…. It’s not really experimental; it’s not really commercial, like Raya said, “Experimental LOL.” It’s hard. To support a film like this becomes a question of ethics. The only way for these films to survive is through people supporting it, friends, and community. The world of cinema has changed. Artists who are doing things that are different don’t get support from business, trade magazines, or major film festivals. That’s why I started Cinema Scope in the first place. Most of the reviews aren’t negative, they’re positive reviews that are trying to promote a certain kind of cinema. A film like this needs advocates. I don’t care who they are, if they’re family or friends. I would think that they were honest, as we were honest in making it. I know sometimes I can be more generous to people I know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think that this is in any ways a problem. In fact, we should be overly generous to people we want to support. I want to be overly generous to Raya’s films. Otherwise, these films are going to die and we want them to live.
MARTIN: I was going to ask something like why would you be pessimistic about it…. The expectations of cinema being this or that, having this certain collective tradition, with these romantic ideas. The possibilities are still there; it can always continue in a different form.
PERANSON: More filmmakers are turning to the art world. The audience just isn’t here anymore, neither is the money.
MARTIN: But also visual arts is coming to cinema.
PERANSON: There are installation possibilities with this film. One thing we haven’t touched on is that the film can be read, if you choose to do so, as a kind of conceptual art; Hopper was of course part of the art world for most of his life as a photographer, a collector, a presence: His was one of the first Screen Tests that Warhol shot in 1964, and if you want to talk about film references in our film, the Screen Tests are obviously there. We shot Screen Tests of the entire crew. One of the most bitter parts in The American Dreamer is where he quotes Warhol without acknowledging it, saying that he doesn’t read because by using your eyes and your ears you’ll find everything that there is. The filmmakers later reveal the Warhol quote on a poster. Though maybe this was intentional on everyone’s part, who knows? A few critics have called our film an in-joke for cinephiles, which I find pretty narrow-minded if not ignorant; no art critic would say that about something like 24 Hour Psycho or The Clock or Pierre Huyghe’s “remakes” of Dog Day Afternoon and The American Friend. But like I said, there’s much more to the film than The Last Movie. But if people want to be narrow-minded and reject the entire film off-hand, they’re free to do so.
WALKER: Mark, will you make more films?
PERANSON: Maybe, I guess I’m self-destructive enough. We made this because we had something to say. I don’t think people should make films unless they have something to say. Most films that are made are completely pointless, let’s face it. At the least, this film has a reason to exist.
WALKER: Would you guys make another film together?
PERANSON: I think Raya works best solo.
MARTIN: It’s always fun to collaborate with someone but it’s a struggle for me because I think I’m a selfish person. But the more I collaborate the more I learn to be giving.

PERANSON: We collaborated as directors but this film is a bigger collaboration. It’s like with [Raya Martin's 2012 film] The Great Cinema Party. The collaborative aspect of La última película is also with Gym Lumbera, the film’s director of photography, also with Alex and Gabino. I don’t think the film could be made without Gym. His work in the film is pretty great. Maybe I could make another film by myself. It’s a confidence thing too—Raya has made 11 or 12 other films before. The only other film I’ve made before was just me shooting on a Handicam with a crew that was already there. Shooting an actual film with a 15-person crew is a daunting task, especially with so little time. For the most important scenes in the film we only had time to shoot at most two takes; it was a bit of a high-wire act. We also shot this film with no producer– it’s frankly astounding that this film got made.
COOK: I saw the film digitally in a different cut, and you’re showing the film on 35mm. But that’s not going to happen too often, in too many places.
PERANSON: Ideally…it should happen everywhere. At least at festivals. We have to screen the film on DCP in the Philippines because the print is here and can’t be there by next week. (Also, in Lisbon in November, we will screen on DCP as the print has to be in Copenhagen; depending on demand, we can make another print but there are a few things that have to be worked out first.) I doubt the film will ever be distributed on 35mm, due to economic reasons: it costs a lot to ship a print. There was this performative aspect of the screening at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver, in that near the end of the film there is a scene which is completely silent, and I realized that I could open to door to the cinema, and the door to the projection booth, and the room would essentially all of a sudden be flooded with the sound of the 35mm projector. And it worked perfectly. I have another idea for something performative that hopefully we will do at a festival early in 2014…. We could have gotten much crazier with this movie—as by the end of the shoot we were doing some really wild things in terms of experimentation—but we didn’t.
COOK: There’s a balance between chaos and control.
PERANSON: Yeah and that’s also the product of the edit. It could have been edited very differently—we have five different movies with what we shot. The Last Movie shot for a year and had over 40 hours of footage and we shot for 7 1/2 days and we probably had the same amount of footage. Which I think is an anecdote that summarizes the difference of filmmaking in 1971 and 2013.

Above: camera assistant Francisco Ohem 
COOK: The film screened here in Vancouver in two different cinemas. The Vancity Theater and the Cinematheque and the projection was very different at both: the sound was better at one, the masking of the image at the other. And that dynamic of the 35mm projection being different in every cinema it shows in...
PERANSON: Well, it shouldn’t be...
COOK: Yes, but it’s an important part of the film now.
PERANSON: Well it’s the weird thing: showing a film on 35mm becomes a performance in a way. It’s so alien.
COOK: We wouldn’t have been conscious of this before but now that there’s digital and you can have precision when you show a film. Then all of a sudden you start to notice the lack of precision when you’re showing 35mm.
PERANSON: Yeah, for sure. And not just the lack of precision, but what happens with changes like dust and dirt and scratches: the print was scratched in Toronto, I think at the press screening, before it even screened for the public. But I don’t mind that.
COOK: It lives.
PERANSON: Yeah, It’s an object, a living object that’s changing. Whereas digital is a dead object, which has already been recorded, and will never ever change unless it gets erased completely.
MARTIN: I think that the beauty of it is that like every screening, is like each time the film runs through a projector it becomes new again. Each screening on 35mm is actually new.
COOK: I saved this for last. What moves you about The Last Movie and Dennis Hopper?
PERANSON: The Last Movie is an important film for a number of reasons, the style, the way it was made, its failure, what came before and what came after—it represents something about American cinema in that moment. It’s a free thing. And our film was made and edited with complete freedom. More people should use that as an example for how to create art. People called The Last Movie pretentious. Of course you have pretenses. Why else are you making a film? Or art? Or anything?
MARTIN: I think The Last Movie and Dennis Hopper are inseparable. The sense of commitment, losing oneself in whatever you’re trying to discover and explore—I don’t know, it’s like life feels [laughs].

PERANSON: I want to know what you guys thought of the movie...
COOK: My first experience with the film? How about I give the updated version of that answer? I saw your guys’ film and Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? at TIFF and both your film and his film caused me to do something—not that your film necessarily intended to do as it takes the death of 35mm very seriously and so do I. But at the same time both your film and Sion Sono’s film made me second guess the way I fetishize celluloid and the way I cling to some of my romantic cinephilic ideals and even made me progress past some of them by presenting these ideas with a level of irony. Of course I’m bound to 35mm film and your film doesn’t make me love 35mm less; it does the opposite, but somehow it made me confront what in my cinephilia is naive or too romantic.
PERANSON: I think when you get older you get less idealistic. [Raya laughsThat’s my experience with this. When you’re young 18, 19, or your early 20s, you think you know it all, all of the world, you’ve seen all of cinema. You’ve read all the most important books and then the older you get you realize the less and less you know. For me especially—I’m much less secure of my knowledge than I was when I was twenty years old. Now I don’t really want to write criticism any more because it seems...
COOK: Futile?
PERANSON: Yeah, maybe futile. Some of it relates to the fact that there’s a lot of writing out there and so it seems like same old noise stuff. But yeah: I don’t feel confident in what I’m saying because I’ve realize there’s so much I don’t know and, also, who cares about my opinion?
COOK: But knowing that you’re not confident about what you know is honest to a degree, no?
PERANSON: But then you’re lying to yourself when you present your opinions confidently...
COOK: You’re not lying if you…I don’t know I think there’s a way to...
PERANSON: Acknowledge the fact that you can't write definitively on something?
COOK: I don’t know. I think to an extent it changes your writing if you do write it assertively. I don’t know. I’m young but I’m going through something where I’m confident in what I think about movies but what I think about movies changes everyday. Which means that I was definitely wrong in what I was confident in before the change...if that makes sense. And that’s constantly happening.
PERANSON: If you’re conscious of the fact that your opinions change based off of many different things and also you have to realize that they’re opinions. They aren’t objective proclamations about the world. With this film, someone said that they didn’t mind the fact that nothing definitive was being said…if you want to be definitive you write an essay or write philosophy. For me this film is kind of novelistic in a way, in terms of layers, in terms of meaning, in terms of using referential material. Pynchon is not a bad comparison. Or Borges, why not...or Don Quixote. But it’s just different than a regular film. I don’t know. Kurt, what was your impression of the film?
WALKER: To be honest, I’m still piecing it all together. But at the moment it has me thinking about this point in film culture that we currently seem to be in, wherein everyone's obsessed with shots matching, and we all seem to have an aesthetic checklist while watching a film. I think we're at a point where in a lot of narrative films the image is ultimately disconnected from the world–because life, or at least how I’ve experienced it, isn’t really about shots connecting anymore. La última película, in some ways, answers this by resurrecting and reclaiming the disjunctive nature of Hopper's work: those 70s zooms, the broken cuts, and the unmatched shots. In brief, because I’m not a critic, I found the aesthetic ruptures that compose the film to to be very moving, in that yours guys' film essentially reclaims these forms in order to create new ones. It made perfect sense that David Bordwell walked out.
PERANSON: I think so far there’s definitely a generational thing where the people who react best to the film are younger people as opposed to critics and scholars like David Bordwell. Or filmmakers, for some reason—I can guess why—filmmakers really like the film.
COOK: Anyone that is our age that is either making movies, is writing about movies, or is a part of movies in some way, whether we like it or not, the first thing on our minds is the way things are changing. The way that relates to how we interact with the movies and the way we interact with movies now. This is the film that extrapolates on it to the furthest extent that any movie so far has.
PERANSON: There’s so much of the film that relates to film history or old things like the film's sound, for example. Which somebody said to me the other day that the whole film sounds like it’s recorded on vinyl.
COOK: That’s a good observation.

PERANSON: Well yeah, it’s an intentional attempt to sonically create something that sounds old but it’s done through contemporary means—there’s no old sound equipment being used. A lot of it was just recorded on lavaliers. The sound is much more artificial than the image. All of the image is from in-camera other than the superimposition on the beach. We didn’t want to do anything to the film to change it to maintain the integrity of what we were doing.
Raya, which scene do you regret most that we didn’t shoot or use?
MARTIN: I still wish that we prepared the sacrifice shoot more. In terms of the set-up, having more people around: a bigger crowd. Because I really like the whole idea of it being performance art.
PERANSON: Well it is a performance! When we were shooting that scene, I wanted an eight-camera setup because I knew what we were essentially doing was a performance and we told everyone who was recording not to stop at any point. That’s why the making-of scene for me is so important because what is doing is documenting a performance. Because we went to the middle of this town—we’re essentially in the middle of the capital of the Yucatan, Merida, and nobody knew we were coming there. We shot this ridiculous Jodorowsky-like sacrifice…
COOK: And people just couldn’t get to you because of the traffic?
PERANSON: Yeah! No one goes to that monument because there’s this road that’s built around it. My regret about that scene is I wanted a shot where we had the heart held up to the sun and you saw the sun behind the heart. It would have been nice to have that shot. But I think it’s beautiful as it is; it’s one of my favorite sequences in the film. The funniest line for me is when Alex yells, “Why are you slating this when there’s no sound?” That’s just hilarious. We were so excited because we only got the slate the day before so we needed to use it, because it is one of the main characters in the film.
MARTIN: I wish we had done the Borat in the Chichen Itza shit. Alex doing provocative interviews with unsuspecting New Agers.
PERANSON: I also really regret not sacrificing those chickens. The best thing we could have shot was the shootout in the ruins but early on we realized it was impossible, logistically. Equipment wise, everything.
MARTIN: It was such a miracle to have that shot of Alex shooting a rifle.
PERANSON: It wasn’t a rifle, it was a shotgun. Which in itself is ridiculous. In The American Dreamer there are scenes of Hopper with pistols and rifles but we couldn’t find any pistols in Mexico, if you can believe that.
COOK: Raya, tell us about the bar scene.
MARTIN: I don’t know it’s just me loving to do things the complicated way. For that scene I thought it would be nice to shoot-edit and yeah...
WALKER: What does shoot-edit mean?
PERANSON: Editing in camera.
MARTIN: Shoot-edit on 16mm. So you already decide on the spot the shots that followed each other for the scene, so that you have the whole scene already in one whole strip. But then it got more complicated as we had dialogue. It was pretty stressful to shoot, Mark.
PERANSON: The idea of that scene is that when you shoot something like that the traces of the production are apparent in the scene. But I’m not totally sure if they are with that scene...maybe because we didn’t end up using the exact plan. But that shoot was a disaster. Two sisters owned the bar and one of the sisters permitted our shoot and the other didn’t and so she ended up calling the police and the police showed up and then they were yelling at one another and threatened to throw her in jail. Frankly for me shooting that scene was exhilarating because it was a complete breakdown of what was going on because Raya and I ended up having a debate about cinematic space in the middle of the bar at around 11pm while the actors are sitting there totally confused to what’s going on and meanwhile the police are outside. And half the bar is a pile of dirt.
WALKER: What did your guys’ debate consist of?
PERANSON: It had to do with the fact that each shot was supposed to match: establishing shot, two shot, close-up, reverse close-up…but actually Raya was right on the whole thing. Because I was like, "you can’t cut from this to this because you want to separate the space in between... you want to have the two of them: Alex and Gabino in one space and you don’t want to have Iazua in the space with Alex until she gets to the table." But in the second establishing shot you also see her briefly in their same space when she walks into the bar. It became a long go around thing about how the characters related to each other in the space. For me it was amusing, especially as I was filming the whole thing with a GoPro on my head, but Raya was pretty pissed off. At the end of that scene we both left and let Gym shoot the last part of that scene, so we ended up with a medium shot of a dolled-up Mexican woman and a close-up of a half-naked photograph of a woman who looks like Cybill Shepherd.

Kurt and I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the filmmakers (pictured below) for their generous cooperation in assembling this piece!

- mubi.com/notebook/

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