Lav Diaz wins best director in Venice for new film, ‘Lahi, Hayop (Genus Pan)’

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Sep 13 2020 10:01 AM | Updated as of Sep 13 2020 01:34 PM

A tale of three illegal miners. Bart Guingona (left) plays Paulo, DM Boongaling (middle) as Andres and Nanding Josef as Baldo in Lav Diaz latest opus Lahi, Hayop. Image courtesy of Sine Olivia Pilipinas

Filipino auteur Lav Diaz wins the best director award at the Orizzonti or Horizons Section in this year’s Venice International Film Festival, for his latest opus, “Lahi, Hayop (Genus Pan).”

Considered the arthouse section, Horizons runs parallel to the main competition of the oldest film festival in the world. Head of the Orrizonti jury is French director Claire Denis. For the main competition, Cate Blanchett is president of the jurors. 

Known for his epic films that sometimes run up to 11 hours, Diaz's “Lahi, Hayo (Genus Pan)” is reportedly running for only two hours and 37 minutes. 

As described in the “Lahi, Hayop” Facebook page, the film is about “…three illegal miners’ journey back to their island after months of toiling in hellish conditions. With their hard-earned money, they traversed the sea, the mountains and the forest until they reached their destination.”

Watch the trailer here:

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Besides being the director, Diaz also functioned as writer, editor and cinematographer. 

The cast members are familiar faces from Diaz’s previous films. Not a coincidence but many are from the theater circuit. They are Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Fernando “Tata Nanding” Josef, Actors’ Actors, Inc.-The Necessary Theater founding artistic director Bart Guingona, and Taumbayan owner Joel Saracho. Taumbayan is a bar and live performance venue in Quezon City frequented by theater actors and indie musicians, much like a second home. 

The three miners are Paulo (played by Guingona), Baldo (played by Josef) and Andres played by DMs Boongaling.

Josef said he is thankful to Diaz for giving him not only a lead role but this time, for being a “contravida”. Baldo, his character, is the eldest and the toughest among the three miners.

“I am used to playing a priest, or an old man na mabait, kinakawawa, inaapi tapos lumalaban,” he said in jest in a Zoom conference hosted by Orencio a few hours before the film’s gala screening at Sala Darsena, Lido, in Venice on September 11 (Manila time).

Guingona plays Paulo Homero, described “the prayerful one among the three miners treading their way back home.”

“Mabait ang role ko dito, like in most of Lav’s films. Kaya gusto ko nga mag-request in the future, bigyan n'ya naman ako ng bad boy role,” Guingona said in jest. 

Boongaling plays the youngest miner among the three, the “anguish-filled Andres.”

“Pinakamagulo ang utak, hindi kayang damhin kung ano yung pinagdadaanan nila,” Boongaling said.

Saracho is Diaz’s favorite choice for villainous roles. So, for this film, he is part of the “deadly trio” composed of Sarhento (played by Noel Sto. Domingo) and Kapitan (Popo Diaz.)

Veteran folk rock artist Lolita Carbon also has a special cameo role called “Nanang Mamay”. She sang an “a capella” composed by Lav Diaz. 

“Thank you at nakasama ako dito. Nagulat mga kaibigan ko. Binibiro ako, kung kailan ako naging senior, saka ako nag-ganito. Binibida ko ang role ko sa mga friends ko, kahit short act lang. Ako yung nag-uuling. Challenging yung song na ginawa ni Lav, pero it was so beautiful,” Carbon said. 

Before Carbon became a solo artist, she was vocalist-composer of the legendary folk rock trio, Asin or Salt of The Earth, from the 1970s. In the 1990s, she formed Nene Band, whose hit “Biyaheng Langit” became a classic. 

Other members of the cast are Merly Bucong and Elvira Dayandante.

Like in most of Diaz’s films, the supporting cast members also worked behind the camera. Hazel Orencio played Mariposa, the daughter of Baldo, and she also functioned as production manager and assistant director. 

Popo, the production designer, said he was originally the official cook in the set with art director Robinne Martillano. Ceecil Buban was sound recordist but also was production assistant, together with Rosalyne Tarquian Tarnate and Qi Perez. Production coordinator was Mario Tarquian and driver during location shooting was Bogs Derla.

During the said Zoom reunion of the cast and crew, that served as “virtual salubong” before the gala night, Orencio revealed the film was shot for a total of 15 days. 

First was the nine shooting days in December, 2017 in Culion Island in Palawan. They resumed shooting for a few days in January 2018, and got interrupted in February. They finished the last shooting days in Tanay in March 2018.

Orencio said the film was originally part of “Lakbayan” film trilogy with Brillante Mendoza and Kidlat Tahimik. It was originally a short film titled “Ang Mito ng Isla Hugaw”, running for 37 minutes.

“But Lav had the intention na, even back then, to expand to feature length,” she said.

“Walang nag-expect na ito ‘yung unang lalabas. Maraming naka-line up, pero eto yung pumasok sa Venice,” she added. 

It can be recalled a few months before the pandemic started, Diaz was reportedly shooting the come-back film of John Lloyd Cruz, titled “Servando Magdamag,” an adaptation of a short story by Ricky Lee. 

Meditation on greed and the animal nature of man. A scene from 'Lahi, Hayop' (Genus, Pan). Image from 'Lahi, Hayop' Facebook page, courtesy of Sine Olivia Pilipinas

Like a homecoming

Orencio said Diaz’s recent win in the Orrizonti section is like a homecoming.

It was in Venice where Diaz started gaining a cult following among cinephiles, film scholars and students in Europe. In 2007, his “Death In The Land of Encantos” won a special mention award. In 2008, he came back with a vengeance by winning best film in the Orrizonti. 

In 2010, Diaz was member of the jury. In 2011, his “Century Of Birthing (Sigo Ng Pagluluwal)” was shown as exhibition film. 

But it was in 2016 when he made the biggest wave in the oldest film festival in the world. Four years ago, he won the Golden Lion Award, the highest prize given to a film in the main competition, for “Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left).” 

It was the comeback film of ABS-CBN chief content officer Charo Santos-Concio after she retired from her post as CEO and President. She played the lead role of a woman imprisoned for false accusations now seeking vengeance with the help of a cross-dressing male gay played by John Lloyd Cruz.

“This is for my country, for the Filipino people, and the struggle of humanity,” Diaz said back then. 

What critics, reviewers say

“Lahi, Hayop” has started gaining the nods of critics and reviewers in Europe. 

In his review for British online magazine The Upcoming (theupcoming.uk), Joseph Owen said: “A story about three men (Paulo, Baldo, and Andres) who live in a small community. Their relationships appear mainly determined by debt and obligation: who owes money to whom; the metaphysical nature of transactions (‘A deal is a deal.’); and the frustrations wrung from intimate, small-scale commerce."

“Diaz frames their interactions with studied simplicity. The earth beneath and the trees around them take on an omnipresent tactile quality, beckoning the trio towards genesis and their ancestral states.”

Le Polyster, a French online magazine said in its review: "Behind the desperate idea that the truth is just another legend, 'Genus Pan' is an elegy of unforgettable beauty."

Raffaele Meale of the Italian film criticism magazine “Quinlan” wrote: “‘Genus Pan' at the same time it possesses all the trappings of the director's poetics and humor, and contains pages of cinema so pure as to dazzle the gaze, so granite and powerful in its simplicity that it leaves completely powerless."

Rouven Linnarz of the German online film magazine “film-rezensionen.de” wrote: “‘Lahi, Hayop’ is a drama about whether humans can emancipate themselves from their dark urges. Lav Diaz tells an often very dark, sobering story about the nature of humans as the cause of suffering, brutality and superstition, but still leaves a back door open, because he secretly believes that it is in the power of humanity to change the circumstances of life.”

Hyun Jin Cho, director of London Korean Film Festival writing for BFI UK website, said: "Taking leave from their jobs at a gold mine, three workers journey to their home village on foot through the spectacular yet unforgiving wilderness of the mythical island of Hugaw. As time passes and their conversations intensify, buried histories emerge and a sense of psychosis invades the scene. 

“As ever, Lav Diaz’s exquisitely subdued black & white images and patient rhythm lend a Brechtian register to the drama; almost always filmed from the same fixed distance, each scene is an immaculate tableau vivant. Behind the film’s folkloric façade, Diaz once again taps into the collective memory of defiant struggles against the tyranny of both contemporary Filipino society and colonial brutality, centred on the timeless image of men walking – one of the key traits of Pan.”

Incidentally, “Lahi, Hayop” was chosen for the official selection at BFI London Film Festival come October. 

It was also announced that “Lahi, Hayop” can be viewed via https://www.festivalscope.com/film/genus-pan/ for only US$6 or PHP 291.50. Viewing started on Sept. 12 at 3 am (Philippine time). Viewers are given 30 hours to finish watching the film. 

As for its debut in a live theatrical screening in the Philippines, it is hoped one of the drive-in movie houses could accommodate it in the near future. 

Watch the second trailer here: