Movie review: 'Panahon ng Halimaw' is a powerful, timely epic

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 31 2018 03:33 PM

Piolo Pascual plays Hugo, a poet and an activist, in Lav Diaz's 'Ang Panahon ng Halimaw.' Handout

Men, as the wise man in "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" puts it, never learn from the history of the past.

Because time hasn't changed things much, Lav Diaz's latest outing, a searing depiction of the evils of dictatorship, appears like a specter that came back to haunt us.

Set in late '70s, "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" (Season of the Devil) recounts the atrocities of a state-backed militia in a far-flung village during the Marcos regime.

Janus-faced leader Chairman Narciso (Noel Sto. Domingo) and his cronies are sowing terror and discord in the fictional hinterland of Ginto. Their methods are all-too-familiar -- they capitalize on threats and disinformation, silence dissent, and take matters on their own hands.

Amidst the turmoil, young doctor Lorena (Shaina Magdayao) sets up a clinic in Ginto to provide medical help for the poor, but then mysteriously disappears. Her husband Hugo (Piolo Pascual), a poet and an activist, goes to Ginto to find her, but only to be confronted with a community that lost its soul.

(From left) Bituin Escalante, Bart Guingona, Pinky Amador and Piolo Pascual in a scene from Lav Diaz's 'Ang Panahon ng Halimaw.' Handout

During his search, Hugo meets locals, such as Aling Sinta (Pinky Amador), who is being blamed for the misfortunes that befell Ginto, and Paham (Bart Guingona), the village wise man who rallies other villagers to come out from their trance.

PRESENT-DAY PARALLELS

Six minutes’ shy of four hours, some clear threads emerged in the film. It will leave you no doubt what Diaz thinks about the country's current state of affairs. He ventured where others fear to tread.

The film blurred the lines of the past and present government, bearing striking similarities for its use of censorship and indifference to rule of law and due process.

One scene in the film showed a cadaver with a sign, akin to summary executions that has become known as "cardboard justice" in the Duterte administration.

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And in "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw," Diaz changed things up, making his foray into musical.

Billed as a rock opera, the film is told in a cappella that sounded more like incantations, which evoked sorrow and suffering.

Like many of his films, "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" was shot in monochrome. It contained striking imagery lensed by cinematographer Larry Manda.

Though it is slow and offers a simpler narrative, the film showed a high level of quality performances from its actors.

'KAILAN KA LALABAN'

In its long and silent sequences, the story grew ominous as the film inches towards end.

Moments before the film concludes on a haunting note, the ensemble tells the audience: “Kailan ka lalaban sa iyong panahon? Nasa'n na ang anak ng bayan? Gumising ka anak ng bayan.”

This moving verse, an impassioned plea to Filipinos lulled into stupor, was sang with such fire and truth. A foretaste of calamitous events if those in power, in control, and susceptible to whims and indiscretions are left unchecked.

A scene from Lav Diaz's 'Ang Panahon ng Halimaw.' Handout

"Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" is designed to move the audience and spark the thinking process, no matter what side you sit in the political fence.

If we don't learn the mistakes from the past, we are partly to blame if another Janus-faced rears its ugly head.

The film's message is loud and clear. Diaz has had enough of metaphors. How many tragedies does it take before we wake up?