Saturday, 11 October 2014

LFF REVIEW - FROM WHAT IS BEFORE (LAV DIAZ)


"I am the mother of Lamalan", Amrayda sings of her dead son. Past and future converge in a memory of the present, of what is before, and thus we understand from what we have come. Lav Diaz continues his cinematic meditations on time and duration - whom better than Lav Diaz to explore such a topic - with From What Is Before, a solemn, slow film about anytime but now, in no place but here. The whole of history makes itself known in his depiction of existence, as the camera's lens and the microphone attune themselves to different perspectives, and as Diaz's perspective lingers on the natural world. His edits, langorous and deliberate, work in tandem with the innate rhythms of the on-screen action, itself appearing nothing less than wholly innate. One appreciates the presence of individual creatures as transient, their environment as permanent, situations as fluctuating, their cumulative effect as indelible. In adjusting the traditional focus of film from the present moment to those moments which surround it, we observe cause and effect in play, and relate what we observe to the reality that has extended from it (this is a generally-fictionalised account set within a factual occurrence) - Amrayda sings, too, of her son: "He is the extension of my life". To witness life as disturbed as it becomes in this Filipino barrio, to confront a future and effects whose origins are rooted in tumult, is to witness pure terror, and Diaz's pessimistic nostalgia presents us with much to ponder upon. He constructs an organic argument between old rituals and new ones, bringing forth questions regarding the benefits and the difficulties of each, which he leaves, gratifyingly, unanswered. As rich and varied as his style of filmmaking is - watch how he shifts from his usual unobtrusive observation to melodramatic catharsis when handling fantastical elements, or to stark horror as events turn particularly frightening - From What Is Before must concede, and willingly, that the only lasting answers are to be found in nature. His figures are engulfed by it, appear as ineffectual travellers upon it. They will die, in what will become the present. But past and future remain, from what is before and what is still to come.