Autohystoria begins with a song played over a black screen-a light, charming tune in which a man plays tribute to his nipa (a type of palm with leaves used for thatching) hut-before we are presented a shot in grainy video of a young man leaving an apartment complex. We walk with this young man for over twenty minutes. The traveling shot with the camera situated across the street allows us to watch and listen as he passes karaoke bars and small clubs; the cars zipping past occasionally obstruct our vision; we soak in his environment. He reaches his destination, a small, two-story gated house, enters, comes out, smokes a cigarette, and enters again. Text then appears on the screen-with the shot of the street and house still in the background-announcing approximately this: "Last night I read about Andres Bonifacio. He was murdered together with Procopio Bonifacio. I wrote about him to my brother. He did not answer." At the end of its first shot, Autohystoria declares itself both as personal-through the use of "I" and "my brother" presents the possibility that we are watching a dream-"last night".
The first shot we see after the opening poses a question: it is night and we are given a view, in a static, extreme long shot, of a monument at the center of a roundabout, with cars circling by. We wonder: what is this monument? What are we supposed to be looking at? And what is the monument's relationship to the text that we have just read?
Knowing that the statue featured in the monument is of Andres Bonifacio will give you a clue, but it doesn't quite solve the riddle. A few minutes into the shot, you begin to take notice of a sound: the siren of a police car that returns and fades repeatedly. Then we spot the police car driving around in circles again and again. Now we have clues, but we still have no answers, and the shot continues for several more minutes before the cut that finally gives us a clue. An edit thrusts us into two shots taken inside the car. The car holds two passengers. In these shots-given the feeling of claustrophobia, the expressions on the passengers' faces, the restlessness of their bodies, and their petrified silence-we are provided an answer. Inside the car driving in circles are two people who both appear not to want to be there. One of them is the man we saw in the prologue, and the other, a bit older, we imagine to be his brother. In the next shot, we are transported into a forest, with the camera following the brothers, whose hands are tied, from the car as they are forced by apparent captors to walk forward. What follows is a modern recreation of the Bonifacio brothers' death march: our tragic heroes walking forward gingerly in a dark forest with only a flashlight illuminating their steps.
The video then proceeds to its inevitable, stark conclusion, with one brother (Procopio) shot and the other (Andres) running away (as occurred in real life; Andres was eventually caught and executed). Then there is a startling cut to three extended shots: a view of a mountain, a picture of serene clouds hovering in the blue sky, and a shot of a flowing waterfall. A jolting cut to three archival Edison newsreels from the era follows, and then deafening silence. One feels a strange surge of emotion upon observing, in stillness and silence, the Edison clips. (This is heightened, perhaps, by the way the silence contrasts with the raging sound of water in the previous shot.) It is not an emotion one feels when watching these newsreels on their own; it is an emotion brought about by their placement at the end of this trip; and it is in this sensation that the beauty of this film is revealed. This is our history, Martin declares, but it's also a hallucination: sometimes we need to dream, to summon the imagination, in order to feel the past with a renewed intensity.
This is an extract from 'Like the Body and the Soul: Independence and Aesthetics in Contemporary Philippine Cinema,' in Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia, May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay, eds. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2012. With thanks to the publisher for granting permission to post this extract.
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