Lav Diaz Directs A
Between Church and God
Hubad Sa Ilalim ng Buwan (1999)
Directed by Lav Diaz
Story and Screenplay by Suzette Doctolero, Bong Ramos, & Lav Diaz
Diaz's treatment of time jumps here would be unique to Philippine cinema, yes, but Jeffrey Jeturian might have something to say about Isabel Granada's being too mestiza for her role. I'd have a piece myself against Mike Magat's unrealistic acting, very unfishermanly. And speaking of that, the overwhelming beef most would have against this film would be in its un-Filipino quietness/inarticulateness and slowness combine, one that's almost very European film-ish (or even British horror film-like), the opposing extreme of Marilou Abaya's and Joel Lamangan's Filipinos' purportedly realistic melodramatic behavior. The sound director doesn't bother to elucidate footstep sounds, nor even to supply us with enough cock-crowing. Reminds us of the same quietness in Ishmael Bernal's Nunal Sa Tubig or Mike de Leon's Itim.
Now comes my own quick answer to these negative impulses. The quietness turns Diaz's characters into psychological zombies of sorts. But perhaps that's the only mood that could achieve in its turn a sort of weird Romantic Minimalism that's quite needed by the film's possible gist. By a paradoxical Romantic Minimalism, I mean urgently romantic moods going by way of a psychological sparseness, in the manner of a troubled Japanese psyche instead of in the fashion of Zen's anti-psyche minimalism.
This sort of weird combination needs to be put in focus at once because the film's very retreat into the (albeit exaggerated) atmosphere of provincial contentment, quiet, and failed businesses carries with it what to me is the film's very significance. This is a film that allows us to ask about the naked truths in our lives against a background of faith and a presentation of potential unknowables.
Lerma (Klaudia Koronel) was raped at a very young age while sleepwalking. She is psychologically in a (subconscious) constant search for the face of her rapist, the reason perhaps why she now sleepwalks naked. The movie's title I would cheekily but seriously translate into something like, "searching for naked truths under the pale light of the moon within night's overwhelming darkness." One other searcher is Lerma's mother Clara (Elizabeth Oropesa), who has dreams of desert pains, walking in the dream wearing the usual Catholic woman's funerary costume. Later, Clara's dreaming would seem to reveal its sub-significance in the unfolding of her own story: she has been living an incredible life without sex, except one through an affair with the local "banker" Roman (Julio Diaz), the affair (along with her sexless marriage) that would lead her to religious guilt and on to commit suicide in depression. That interpretation on Clara would almost seem to be so claro.
What makes Diaz's handling of cinema time's revelations unique is his making that factor, cinema as a time art, a main part of this film's theme instead of mere tool -- more or less the way that Jeffrey Jeturian's Tuhog made casting as much film subject as cinematic tool.
The central character in Hubad is of course Lauro (Joel Torre), Clara's husband who initially behaves like a perfect material for psychoanalysis or psychiatry but then later unveils a perfectly common delusion upon the concept of priesthood-as-vocation in his person. He is the main theme of this film. Nineteen years after having been seduced by Clara and after two daughters, he says, "hindi pa rin ako matahimik . . . Sigurado ako, pinili akong maging pare . . . Hindi ko na alam kung ano ako." If, indeed, this is a film about secrets and revelations, deceptions and facts-of-the-matter, delusions and truths, then it is Lauro's position that brings in the biggest delusion of all, religion as a set of irresponsible/unusable mythologies.
Certainly we are defenseless against the dangers of searching (e.g. Lerma's naked sleepwalking), and thus we must contrive padlocks for/upon our selves. Religion is a kind of lock, a kind of security, a kind of facile answer to the hurtful unknowable mysteries. Because we cannot leave the unknowables to themselves, because man must conquer hidden secrets and truths, we must design such facile things as the kandado, and religion.
The most earthly figure in the cast is Roman, portrayed as a pragmatic businessman and male sex persona. But everybody is a creator of secrets in time's graph and grid. He is revealed by the movie's time-flow as the father of Agnes (Granada), now in early college. She is actually anak, not inaanak as we've been told. This remains a secret to Lauro until his suicide attempt, and to Agnes until Lauro's death.
There's Domeng, the deaf-mute uncle who helps at the house. Remember Freddie Aguilar's song about the mythological wall between muteness and the ability to communicate, likewise between deafness and man's capacity to understand, empathize, see truths?
Who else, who else? Ador (Magat), Lerma's boyfriend, turns out to be not so adorable when he escapes responsibility after impregnating Lerma. He is just man -- ambitious, discontented, but yet afraid of responsibility. Lauro, the irresponsible and useless father and husband who has his feelings of responsibility and usefulness left behind in the Church (and still nostalgic about those feelings), shows yet a rare loathing for what he fails to see in himself when he hits Ador, the responsibility-rejectionist.
Lerma's attacks of violence (an attack that made his father decide to "lock" her in the confines of home) are understandable, normal. Lauro's irresponsibility is unforgivable. Director Diaz, meanwhile, while lamenting the presence of such Church ideas that govern celibacy, yet frees individuals in the Church from an unforgivable uselessness. There is, after all, Lauro's priest friend (Ronnie Lazaro) who has nothing but an open hand to all that needs his help. And there are the nuns who help distraught kids like Lerma. At a retreat that Lauro attends, some priests tell stories that have to do with the polity -- lawyering, for instance, or political rebels and their cause. Lauro only has a story about himself and his brother priest who died, and of his own priesthood to please his parents ("maging pare para sa kanila, para sa kuya, pati na rin sa aking sarili"). Then he mentions his marriage, with nary a pronouncement of love for the wife and kids.
Lauro tells us about how quiet his parents were. Until tragedy struck. Surely this was a different sort of quietness. Contentment instead of distraction. That would demand another movie altogether. Lauro's quietness is the latter kind, which would only be erased in his daughters' lives when his kind of Catholic tragedy of mythology finishes him off.
Diaz stops short, indeed, of lambasting the Church. Lauro's priest friend had this to say to his friend: "pagtanggap ng katotohanan ang tunay na redemsiyon ng tao." And even as this becomes a film about religion versus responsibility and reality, the Catholic system and the world, yet Lauro's individual realization at the end ("sikapin niyong maging mabuting mga tao," he preaches to his daughters) disavows the Church's responsibility for his behavior. Or was this Diaz's way of preaching towards the Church? In a contrived part of the film, Diaz lets Lauro return to his daughters from a bout of depression and escapism, letting go of these words, "naranasan ko ang kalupitan at karahasan . . . naranasan ko ang lubos na kahirapan . . . narating ko na ang impiyerno." If this was a Diaz lecture upon the faith, then his warning would be the film's ending.
Seemingly reform comes too late in Lauro. Waking up that last morning, Lauro refuses to heed the perfect beauty of hearing Agnes ask, "gusto niyong magkape?" Or the one in watching Lerma bathe happily her newborn child. He opts to go fishing, a selfish choice possibly symbolic of the Church's being a recurrently false "fisher of men." Here was Christ's failure. In Lauro. He dies.
Is there a happy ending in Lerma's closing narration? She lengthily talks, thus, "naroon pa rin ang maraming katanungang nanghihingi ng kasagutan . . . (At pagkatapos ng) sunod-sunod na dagok (sa buhay namin, amin pa ring) pagsisikapan na unawain ang lahat . . . (at ang) lalaking lumapastangan sa akin . . . namumukhaan ko siya sa lahat ng lalaking aking nakikita." Apt note, also, to the Church's myth of celibacy and sexism. A heroic ending for Diaz, a male artist (for isn't art too, as is science and work and everything else, a form of religion to males?). (VISV III, August 2002 - April 2004)
ADDENDUM (VISV III, June 2005)
I strongly suspect such a person as Lauro exists in the real world, but as a metaphorical extreme, a stand-in for another level of reality, one can decidedly gather a flock of Lauros with their laurels.
Hubad is not just a movie about what may happen to a Church authority or follower. It is also a movie about vocations and the dedication one assigns to his/her own, at the expense of practical dependents who may also love the practitioner. Ultimately, it asks whether vocations as such fail the very society their fields claim to serve. Could this be Diaz's paean cum critique of vocations, qua artist?
When is an element of society normal? When is he/she abnormal? Lauro's daughter Lerma seems abnormal at first, but once we recognize her disease as a disease she becomes as normal as her sister. So everybody in the movie behaves normally and crazily. But the craziest, because abnormal, behavior in the film is Lauro's own sleepwalk, lofty among the clouds of vocational cum religious utopias.
Had Diaz titled the movie Normal, that would definitely make my take here more accessible to critics and the general audience. But, then, that too would make it sound like the work of another Diaz, Marilou, whose Karnal (of the trilogy including Moral and Brutal) lambasted another now possibly realistically rare patriarchy.
ADDENDUM II (VISV III, July 2005)
With Lauro, Lav Diaz' screenwriters and himself may have created one of world cinema's weirdest characters that's neither fantastic nor insane. The job of letting him remain plausible on screen was clearly Diaz's, but Diaz and party owes a lot of the character's realization to Joel Torre. Bravo.
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