Slow cinema master Lav Diaz's latest opus "Genus, Pan" (Lahi, Hayop) makes its Asian premiere online during the special hybrid edition of the QCinema film festival. Certainly notable was the fact that this new film was only a little under 3 hours long (157 minutes to be exact), a very manageable figure compared to Diaz's previous epic films which famously had running times of 5 hours or more, the longest being "Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino" (2004) which clocked in a little under 10 hours long (593 minutes).
Three men from Hugaw Island had just finished their three-month contract working in the gold mines of Inawayan. Two were seniors already, the blunt cantankerous Baldomero Catabay (Nanding Josef) and the calm religious Paulo Honero (Bart Guingona); and one much younger, Andres Hanibal (Don Melvin Boongaling). Sick and tired of working in unsafe conditions and having to "share" his salary with various officials, the rebellious Andres disclosed to Paulo this was going to be his final time to work there.
On their return to Hugaw, Baldo instructed the boatman to bring them to the far side of the island instead of the usual port. They would rather make the difficult trek through the woods for a few days to get to their homes, rather than to have them and their salaries ambushed at the barrio. Andres got to know his senior partners better during their hike, including the fact that Baldo and Paulo had a traumatic experience they had long kept secret from others, only to be revealed after they heard an unseen gecko's loud ominous calling.
By the time the hiking scenes ended, there was still a full hour left in the film. Those final 60 minutes would be devoted to scenes in the town and the terrible people who ran it, namely Capitan Teofilo (Popo Diaz), his right-hand man Sarge (Noel Sto. Domingo) and the devil-incarnate rogue Inggo (Joel Saracho). Coinciding with the annual Catholic commemoration of Holy Week, Inggo single-handedly terrorized the poor townsfolk for whatever little money they had, violent deeds were committed resulting in several senseless deaths.
We see several unmistakable trademark hallmarks of a Lav Diaz work. The black and white photography was crisp and clear. The long arduous trek through the woods was marked with folk myths, hallucinogenic visions and acts of violence. There were interminable walks of a character from one end of the screen to the other -- and they really walked very slowly like Baldo's autistic daughter Mariposa (Hazel Orencio), or that fallen penitent Mang Melchor (whom Andres left to walk on his own the hot rocky road.) There was a scene of passionate singing, this time featuring Lolita Carbon as Nanang Mamay grieving the death of her family.
There were some lapses in continuity, like how Andres brought home only one white sack in one scene, while there was an earlier scene when he brought home three such sacks, confusing a critical detail in the story. There were lapses in names, like how Aling Quirina was given the surname of Catabay, when her husband was supposed to be Paulo, not Baldo. The non-actors who played the Hugaw townspeople were obviously very nervous and self-conscious on camera, totally wasting the dramatic potential of their scenes with their static "performances," especially that of Andres' mother and her soft, slow and strained voice.
The main point of the film was actually elucidated at length in a radio program the three men heard in the early part of their trek. An expert Dr. Nana Salinab (Sig Pecho) was being interviewed by DJ Marian (Adrienne Vergara) about how some humans still had brains which had not yet fully developed, thus putting them on the level of the primate genus Pan or the chimpanzee. Humans with fully-developed brains (like Jesus or Buddha) are altruistic with no desire for power. Those with chimpanzee brains become lying, stealing and killing dictators. No names mentioned, but his political message was pointedly frank.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."