A Suggestion and My First Step to Doubt


Originally Published May 18, 2016

Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis stands out in Diaz’ filmography: never did any of his films have epically fallen ideologically than this. Even the horrendous Norte, The End of History would seem to be more acceptable: with Norte, at least Fabian had clear and transparent intentions and decisions in which he embodied and stood for until the end, while still showing his guilt. Hele tried to deal with fate and history but denies itself proper handling of its contradictions. It asks the right questions about the struggle, yet, evades giving a clear answer.

We follow two stories of people sleeping with enemies: a test of tolerance to the passive presence of the enemy to the point where it is actually reflected whether they must be forgiven or not. Diaz echoes of the classic psychoanalytic idea of trauma whenever he speaks of Martial Law: that we never really come into terms with this that’s why we are what we are right now. The classic psychoanalytic advice on making amends with the trauma is to deal with the violator with forgiveness, or at least with a compromise. Despite Diaz’s clear secular stance, Hele has actually suggested a very Judeo-Christian value as a way to make amends to what he deemed as the nation’s’ “trauma”.

There’s Simoun, the scheming businessman who has planned to plant hatred and unrest to the Land to “force the people to rise up”. Even in the source material, Simoun looked at himself as someone on the pedestal, thinking that he could make his plans happen, Simoun was never the one to reflect on the nation’s state, it was only a front: his agenda was revenge for his lost love and lost life. He might have been wanted by the law, but he is never the one to experience its violence. Then there’s Caesaria, mistress to the Captain-General (who’s also Simoun’s friend), the most beautiful traitor of Silang. Both were forgiven in the film. Both were sheltered.

A friend told me on a conversation weeks ago that Diaz’ cinema from 2010 beyond has become evasive, and from what I see, evasive of a lot of things that established and complemented the cinema of his earlier and better works: evasive of the very things that have molded what he sees as his aesthetics.

Near the end of the film, Basilio was asking Padre Florentino about the hardships and the sorrows of the Filipino people, on why things have to end up the way. Padre Florentino answered Basilio that it’s up to the younger ones to answer that, but he answered not with a face of certainty and wisdom, but with a face of confusion and self-doubt. That face pretty much sums up the whole film, more than any of the beautiful scenes that I’ve seen. That face, whether motivated or spontaneous, summarized how confused the film’s main idea, and probably, the very idea of its production.

  1. Or maybe, the film is not confused at all and forgiving the Marcoses and Gloria Arroyo is actually a suggestion.

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