A Conversation with Lav Diaz
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
AT: In an answer to an earlier question you mentioned ďthe endless search for redemptionĒ. What is it about this theme, which some may say is a trademark in all your films, that strikes you so much?
LD: I believe that the greatest struggle in life is the struggle to become a good human being. That ideal is invariable despite manís ironic variability. That belief, that premise, that stand, that aesthetic, that vision, that discourse, is central to that theme. The very core, the very essence of manís existence is the battle between good and bad, within and without; this is inherent as an immediate and lasting effect of manís intellect and pathos. This we cannot escape because we donít classify ourselves as animals; we are rational and emotional, capable of creating poems of ironies and mystery and transcendence, capable of creating dark, brooding and mystical songs, capable of understanding epiphany in cinema, and capable of going to the moon; this you cannot escape if you truly explore manís being, from the great discourses of history, philosophy, psychology, the humanities, theories and all to the very colloquial banter of a street bum; itís all about that: the struggle for great humanism. We seek redemption, we seek goodness, we seek purgation, we seek answers; even the most misguided and disoriented and solipsistic and narcissistic, and maybe instinctive, destructiveness is all about that. It could get too abstract and ambiguous at some point, this issue of redemption, but in my case as a filmmaker, or simply a teller of tales, or a visual juggler, I struggle to concretize it by creating concrete beings, concrete characters, concrete conditions, concrete visions, concrete words, concrete pains, concrete sufferings, concrete vistas. I struggle to create characters and canvasses that could honestly represent humanityís struggle. Culture is my retreat in understanding humanity. Or I should say, culture is the key to my struggle towards unlocking and understanding the mystery of human existence because culture seems the only concrete aspect of manís existence. Culture is manís history and dialectic and being.
And I believe, that at this point in manís existence, he is still a big failure, itís a capital F, insofar as humanism is concerned. I should qualify that statement by pointing to wars, despotism, disease, poverty, crimes, and all the injustices man continually and mindlessly inflicts on his being. You know, this is already the twenty-first century and it is truly mind-boggling that we remain primitive and barbaric and ignorant and insensitive and idiotic. Consider these: India building space rockets that cost billions of dollars while thousands upon thousands of its population are starving and homeless; Iraq, Tibet, North Korea, Africa, Aung Sang Syu Ki. The struggle of the first Darwinist human cell, or of The Adam of Eden, remains the same. Are we to conclude then that humanityís curse is his being? That in the end, he will just self-destruct anyway? So, man is nothing? Whatís the use of struggle for great humanism then if at the end of the long haul, weíll just be relegated to nothing? What are we going to make of the likes of Marx, Jesus, Beethoven, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Dostoevksy, Kant, Socrates, Freud, Mohammed, Buddha, Che? Fools? How and what about the models and paradigms theyíve created for humanity? Why care?
The endless search for redemption is manís gift and curse--because man canít be relegated to the generic, to being a genre, to being just a dreaded clichť; because man comprehends the need for change, for progress; because man comprehends the perils of retrogression and relapse. And so, he struggles for the ideal. Struggling for the ideal means man will perpetually suffer, and thus, the vision of redemption becoming perpetually inherent to liberate him from that suffering. Hence, his concept of humanity is redemption. And his concept of redemption is great humanism. The thesis of my cinema gravitates to this discourse. Art is part of that struggle. I am trying to be part of the struggle.
AT: "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." Ė Cyril Connolly
You have remained astonishingly faithful to your vision in your two previous films, BWS and Ebolusyon, and in what I have seen in your current project, Heremias. An integral part of this vision it seems is the length. How important is the duration to you? Do you not feel that your films can still be honest and truthful works (i.e. to still be 'writing for yourself' as Cyril Connolly might put it), at a shorter length, which may enable them to appeal to a larger audience, and therefore affect more people?
LD: Duration is very, very important. I have created, or should I say, have embraced a framework for my mise en scene now and the very fulfillment of [the] application of such framework are Batang West Side and Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino. This framework came out very naturally through praxis, the very continual search for an aesthetic stand, an expression that would suit my idea of truth-seeking in my works. Of course, I am fully aware there are paradigms of this vein i.e. the treatise of Andre Bazin, the works of Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Angelopoulos, Ozu and lately, Bela Tarr (Iíve only seen Satantango), Tsai Ming Liang (Iíve only seen The Hole and What Time is it There?) and Hou Hsiao Hsien (Iíve seen A Time to Live and A Time to Die, City of Sadness, Goodbye South and Cafť Lumiere). But then there is no deliberate perusal of their works that may encourage an actual copying; they come only as inspirations to my own search and practice; integrity of their works is a key and a greater factor in trying to emulate them. The principle of non-compromise and the philosophy that art is free are my foundations. It is only now that Iíve come to realize a certain pattern in my praxis and aesthetic, hence a mise en scene inherent in my works. But Iím not going to slide into a condition where this framework, or some guiding structural and contextual lines, would become the cardinal form of all of my works, the very curse of dogmatism that I dread. No, the field is open; I will continually search for truths in that horizon. So, the issue of length is a non-issue at all. Batang West Side is five hours because it should be that way. Ebolusyon is ten hours and forty three minutes because it has just got to be that way. For some time--this is pre-Batang West Side--I grappled with the discourse on length/duration. In the end, the issue is just aesthetic, art, period; and even dialectically, reason pointed to a greater understanding of vision and that is to point to a non-compromising framework for a vision to be honest and truthful and relevant, and you donít stop the discourse. And if one is thinking of a greater cinema, itís hard to argue with that. I believe in that, simply, an understanding that cinema is art. And my cinema will continuously struggle to be part of that greater vision of cinema. And non-condescendingly, I am not making films for the stereotypical concept of audience. That concept of audience is very much a factor of that corrosive entertainment philosophy, a traditional status quo and feudal perspective that is bluntly exploitative of a greater mass (where Hollywood is monstrously the greatest practitioner, and whereof the term Ďmovie industryí had its beginnings) that needs to be educated on humanism and not on consumerism and escapism. With my works, I am only making cinema and all it needs ultimately is interaction, not an audience. The cause and effect are most definitely qualitative. Quality will sternly and surely inch its way towards quantity through the years. No rush. That answers the question why I am so stubborn with my works.
At the end of the day, the greatest way to understand art is silence; it will speak for itself. Reflection. Contemplation. Cognizance. Transcendence. These are better words to understand the mystery of art, its greater role in humanity. And an artistís role isnít just to create, but more importantly to unlock that mystery for the good of humanity, or simply to keep his own perverse sanity amidst the mystery of manís existence.
AT: Why have you decided not to use music in your films?
LD: I am still using music but not in a traditional manner; the conventional extravaganza is gone, the so-called score. Musical scoring is a valid form but conventional application is so tedious and emotionally exploitative. Try studying how the form is applied especially in big-budgeted works, or in a lot of works, old and new. They are so overblown, emotional overkill to the hilt, noisy and nauseous. They just overwhelm every aspect of the mise en scene, why not go to an opera instead? Or, do a soap opera. This maximalist and gaudy perspective of putting music, I can never appreciate. The most glaring rationale, of course, is exploitation of the so-called audience; people who practice this play with the mass pathos bordering on the pathetic, they make the pastiche insanely generic and really itís not music anymore. Most of the time, the music is used as a teaser, a punch line, reduced to a shameless clichť, or even a cover for some weakness in a scene or in the totality of the work. I believe that music, or if one puts a score, it could really work well if used ambiently, unobtrusively; it must not get in the way. In the case of my cinema right now, ambient sound is real sound, no score, sound that is inherently part of the canvass, an integral application, not the proverbial icing.
ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang pilipino