– Autumn/Winter 2015

Long Walk to Life: The Films of Lav Diaz

May Adadol Ingawanij

Lav Diaz, Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (From What Is Before), 2014, video, black and white, sound, 338min, stills. Courtesy Film Development Council of the Philippines

Lav Diaz describes himself as a storyteller who makes films about the struggles of his people.1 In the past two decades, the Filipino film-maker has been fashioning a distinctive mode of epic melodrama. His films tell quiet tales of the sorrow and resilience of a people betrayed by the postcolonial nation state. Extreme in duration, Diaz’s epics reference the Philippine state as a force of death — a state that has, since its independence in 1946, consistently turned against its own people despite the promise of collective emancipation that drove the country’s national liberation movement against Spanish, then US colonial rule. At a time when people are being abandoned and oppressed by their own nation state, Diaz’s films attempt to bring the collective body back to life by embodying the utopian spirit of the nation. To borrow the conceptual language of the political philosopher Pheng Cheah, the nation in its ontological form differs from the historical actuality of the nation state. The ontological form of the nation, or its national-popular spirit, haunts the empirical nation state as a horizon of possibility: in this sense, the nation is,

  1. See Alexis A. Tioseco's interview with the film-maker: 'A Conversation with Lav Diaz', Criticine [online journal], 30 January 2006, available at http://www.criticine.com/interview_article.php?id=21 (last accessed on 22 June 2015).

  2. See Pheng Cheah, Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, especially part 2.

  3. See 'A Conversation with Lav Diaz', op. cit.

  4. See Lúcia Nagib, World Cinema and the Ethics of Realism, New York: Continuum, 2011.

  5. See, for example, Matthew Flanagan, '"Slow Cinema": Temporality and Style in Contemporary Art and Experimental Film', unpublished doctoral thesis, Exeter: Exeter University, 2012. Diaz's films were also included in the AV Festival 'As Slow as Possible' (1—31 March 2012) in a focus section curated by George Clark in Newcastle.

  6. 'An Interview With the Great Lav Diaz', pepediokno.com [blog], 8 September 2014, available at http://pepediokno.com/post/96943248395/an-interview-with-the-great-lav-diaz (last accessed on 29 July 2015).

  7. 'The Burden of History: A Conversation with Lav Diaz' (the film-maker interviewed by Michael Guarneri), La Furia Umana [online journal], no.21, August 2014, available at http://www.lafuriaumana.it/?id=243 (last accessed on 22 July 2015).

  8. See Patricio Abinales, Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.

  9. See Anthony Reid, A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.