One of the most adventurous filmmakers to emerge from the Philippines in decades, Lav Diaz is, in many ways, the spiritual father of what some have called the Filipino New Wave, a group of filmmakers who have adopted digital technology to create an intimate and raw style. At the same time, he stands separate from them, often working on an epic scale and addressing historical shifts in Philippine society. (See his epochal Ebulysion: Evolution of a Filipino Family.)
His latest, Century of Birthing, also stands on its own. Telling two seemingly unrelated tales, it is a grand meditation on the roles of the artist, the prophet and the acolyte. The first story focuses on Homer, a filmmaker who has spent years working on his latest opus — and still isn’t happy with it. Hounded by friends, co-workers and festival programmers to finish the damn thing, he resists every entreaty, countering a programmer’s pleas to send him the film with, “I don’t make films for festivals, I make them for cinema.” (The story plays a little like 8½, minus the surrealism and with a dollop of Warhol thrown in.) The second story concentrates on a Christian cult in a rural region — a group largely comprised of young women (referred to as “virgins”) and dominated by its charismatic leader, Father Turbico. When one of the longest-standing members strays, the impact is catastrophic for both her and the cult.
Diaz portrays both men as troubled and problematic figures, pressured to perform but also ruled by their own romantic conception of themselves. Father Turbico carefully primps himself before meeting with one of his disciples. Homer gives long interviews about the nature of cinema — Diaz, as if to indicate that he’s not convinced by his apparent stand-in’s rhetoric, drowns out the dialogue with industrial noise and almost-decipherable chatter. The characters are linked by public professions of fealty to their gods (Homer’s devotion to cinema; Turbico’s peculiar take on Christianity), and both have followers whose devotion proves to be less than healthy.
Told almost entirely in long takes that are alternately transfixing, claustrophobic and penetrating, Century of Birthing boasts exquisite black-and-white imagery. Indeed, it may be Diaz’s most entrancing film to date — and it’s certainly his most personal. –TIFF
3.90GB | 5 h 58 min | 720×416 | avi