Autohystoria (2007)

Autohystoria (2007) was released at a time when earlier forms of digital feature filmmaking are gaining attention and, at the same time, getting more suspicion. Part of the suspicion came from exactly what Autohystoria’s filmmaking stands for: “long-takes” and “contemplative shots” are often conflated to “lazy” filmmaking. But it was admittedly a very novel take to filmmaking at the time: Autohystoria was never really explicitly a “video installation” project, but its formal approach addresses the material similarly to one. Its “contemplative” approach forces one to grasp the film in a conceptual level by exploiting the long-recording form of video technology. It is hard to gauge if the attempt was successful. After all, night shots generate artifacts that digital video quality of the day presents more distraction than information. But still considering these limitations, Autohystoria is probably one of the last major “experimental” works in Philippine cinema.

It is not as if Autohystoria is “inaccessible”. The work already premised what it was doing in the first parts of the film. The song, the long walk and the intertitles noting the assassination of the Bonifacio Brothers are not hints to the film but the very backbone of the film itself. The film is notorious for that scene in which the screen follows a man walk kilometers in grainy video at night. Since “nothing is happening”, the scene may doze off some who have seen it. After all, there really isn’t anything to “get” from it, other than the fact that we ought to just see it. But the experience is important, as it weaves later to a scene that introduces us to the story of how national hero Andres Bonifacio and his brother were assassinated.

The said scenes above later on weave to relatively “faster” scenes where we see two men (JK Anicoche & Lowell Conales) being anxious. The two later on, disappeared.

If the scenes are taken by themselves, isolated from one another, it is understandable that some might find the film incoherent. It was, after all, arranged like a dream. Dreams, to be remembered in waking life, necessitates appearances of mental vision. Autohystoria, however, does the opposite: it’s a film where the disappearance of the film subject fulfills the work.

Disappearance was a core political issue at the time. It was reported that by 2008, there were 194 cases of enforced disappearances that happened under the Arroyo administration. The same issue was addressed by more politically inclined filmmakers back then, even by Lav Diaz in his Death in the Land of Encantos (2007) and Melancholia (2008). Autohystoria was one of the rare instances when Raya Martin’s postmodernism works in a way that positively contributes not to historical trivialities, but extends towards addressing the contemporary issues of its own time. The film, however, shares the same cynicism his past works gained from their postmodern stance: even in a fictional reenactment, the figure of the revolutionary still can’t do anything against the reactionary state. It’s the same kind of cynicism that the film-scene – most especially of the experimental / alternative cinema –  generally shares from their liberal viewpoint: that revolutions fail. 

There might be an excuse here. That the film is literally about when the Bonifacios are powerless captives, in a way that the film can hide in its documentary / historical fidelity. This may be why we can excuse Autohystoria since it never really hid its position on the revolution. If we are to take Martin’s formulation of history, heavily influenced by Ileto’s approach to “nonlinear and decentralized” historiography, you can see also the limit of political commitment that Autohystoria has. All the while Autohystoria is a formalist success and deserves its place in the history of Philippine experimental cinema, it must be noted that this work also aligns with the cynicism towards revolution, bordering anti-revolutionary tendencies, of the very history of Philippine experimental cinema where it belongs.

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