Saturday, June 12, 2010


Directed by Raya Martin
Written by Raya Martin and Ramon Sarmiento

The enchanted forest that predominates Independencia, set during the first days of the American occupation, is a spooky and exquisite fake and closer to delirium than setwork - - - pattern recognition with counterfeit rain and skies made from paint.

Into its verdant recesses repair a mother and her son bedeviled by invaders and forced to flee their home- - - Tetchie Agbayani in full-on voodoo seethe and stumblebum Sid Lucero - - - and later a young girl - - - slightly anonymous Alessandra De Rossi - - - raped by soldiers with Roosevelt handlebars, who begets a half-breed boy. The story it’s telling has the aura of vapor. A ghost story, really, like nearly everything Raya does. A story of an exile so utter, a freedom if you will, that everyone who undergoes it all but disappear completely, consumed, become like ghosts. And much as it may pulsate and tremor and eventually breach, from inside this tenuous adoptive Eden, history- - - erratic, rogue, malleable history , the conspirational lie we’re all complicit in - - - is all rumor and smoke.

What Raya is in the middle of here is his vividly referential historical trilogy with its deceptively simple and rather elegant conceit - - - run three specific periods of our history that have been colored by struggle through past pre-eminent, almost anachronistic cinematic vocabularies. Then mine the dissonance. Ignore, then, any dismissals - - and there are quite a few floating around, you’d be surprised - - - that it looks artificial, that in parts it looks half-finished, that it’s the pitfalls of not having enough money to shoot in an actual forest. That’s a little like whining that porn has too much nudity. That’s a little like missing the point. That’s a little, like, dumb.

Form has always been crucial to his aesthetic more than you think , making it always crucial to look at form squarely in the eye. And Raya is often at his most vivid and his most alive,and really his most joyous, when he indulges his fetish for manipulating form, which tends to shift shapes from one film to the next and with a perverse and devilish changeling glee, too, that juices up his manipulations. Not so much assimilating these archaic tropes as re-purposing them into vectors of postmodern strangeness. Like the silent film textures that blanket Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional, set during the last days of the Spanish occupation, once so quaint, now possessed of this eerie unsettling beauty, putting Raya on the map but loosing, too, a tumult of lazy if not entirely avoidable Guy Maddin parallels. And Independencia has its fairy tale soundstage of a forest, effervescent throwback to Masaki Kobayashi ,to FW Murnau, to Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies.

As taken as I am with the camcorder crudities of Now Showing and the way it evoked the fickleness and banality and warmth of nostalgia , not to mention the grimy and petrified snuff film sheen that bears out the claustrophobic nihilism of Autohystoria, the fever dream forest here has enough hallucinatory torque to thrust you whole into that immersive otherness, into that alternate reality, where tree gods bask in the rivers and you hunt for food dressed as bamboo birds and sometimes you lose your way and need to turn your shirt inside out to get back home.

Both allusion and illusion and throbbing with metatextual vigor, it could well be Raya’s most ravishing manipulation yet, and also his most disquieting, if only for how it’s both milieu and metaphor, and for its determined insistence that everything here - - - the very notion of independence alluded to in the title included - - - is nothing but a seductive, bewitching lie.
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*Originally published in UNO.

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