Lav songs for a blighted country
He’s not only feted like one, this Filipino filmmaker actually has the makings of a true-blue rock star. Indeed, Lav Diaz’s latest opus is a genre- and mind-bending musical titled “Ang Panahon ng Halimaw” (Season of the Devil).
But who knew that the young Lav dabbled not just in guerrilla filmmaking, but in rocking, rolling and music-making, as well?
“I played in rock ’n’ roll bands in college,” he recalls. “We were so bad. It was just noise, really. Magaling lang kami sa porma. (We were just good poseurs.)”
Music was the fuel that kept him going then. “I loved the energy. I had never experienced such infinitude. My cheap guitar, which was hopelessly always out of tune, and in spite of all the dangers we had traversed, saved my life then.”
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his latest entry in this year’s Berlinale is a musical, a rock opera.
“Music is the most universal language,” he points out. “Maybe it would be easier for the audience to embrace it.”
Lav wrote all 33 songs in the film, which revisits a harrowing chapter in the nation’s history: the martial law era.
“The music, the songs for this film came naturally,” recounts Lav. “I was holed up in my room in Harvard for eight months working on a book and a screenplay for a film noir.”
From September 2016 to May 2017, he was a fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. “To keep me company, I bought this old $200 guitar for kids. And the muses came along with their ethereal sonus gifts. I started writing songs. The film noir became a rock opera.”
Now for the hard part: Filming the musical.
“I recorded the songs with my camera, and we sent the songs to the actors,” he relates. “I told them that they would sing the songs a cappella. The songs would be their dialogue. I mixed some of my old songs with the new ones in creating the narrative.”
To further push the envelope, he thought of shooting the film in Malaysia—an “out-of-the-box” idea that actually proved advantageous in the end.
“Shooting was a breeze,” he asserts. “We had two Pinoy stars (Piolo Pascual and Shaina Magdayao), but nobody knew them there. That was why no one bothered us.”
He has nothing but praise for his lead actors. “What can I say? I’m grateful. Man, they’re so good … and very generous beings. I am thankful for the time they’ve given to the film.”
Previous articles described the film as an “antimusical.”
He acknowledges that his “decision not to use instruments and the usual movements/calisthenics of musicals, as we know them” might’ve led to that label. But then again, he insists: “It is a Pinoy rock opera. I just didn’t follow the conventions.”
As the title suggests, the film could very well be as much about the present as the past. “The film’s story and vision resonate with what we are experiencing right now,” he quips.
He doesn’t have high hopes for his latest Berlin outing. “Just being there is good enough.”
Still, the film has already been picked up by a sales agent, Films Boutique. “But that’s for Europe and the Americas. I hope it will also find a distributor for the Philippines.”
What’s next for Lav?
“I am wrapping up two films right now. They’ve overlapped because of protracted schedules. And there’s the omnibus with Brillante Ma Mendoza and Kidlat Tahimik.”
He is reuniting with “Ang Babaeng Humayo” herself, Charo Santos, in a film on OFWs, “Henrico’s Farm.” His gangster film noir “Kapag Wala Nang mga Alon” (When the Waves are Gone) won the Paris Coproduction Village award at the Hong Kong Asia Financing Forum in 2016.
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