Marcos-era musical resonates with modern Philippines, director says

Swantje Stein, Reuters

Posted at Feb 22 2018 04:47 AM | Updated as of Oct 03 2018 08:46 PM

BERLIN - Filipino director Lav Diaz's musical about martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos is set firmly in the 1970s, but the movie is as much about today, he told Reuters at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday.

"Season of the Devil" ("Ang Panahon ng Halimaw"), which premiered at the festival, shows militia forces singing as they terrorise villagers, and mournful locals lamenting the fate of their country. The acapella songs were all written by Diaz himself for the four-hour, black-and-white movie he describes as a "rock opera".

Diaz, a "slow cinema" director known for contemplative arthouse films, grew up under martial law and saw his village burn in a country Marcos ruled for two decades before he being overthrown in 1986.

"I used 1979 as an epoch for the film, as a setting, as an aesthetic template for the work, but it resonates a lot with the contemporary experience of the Philippines right now and with what's happening in the country right now," Diaz told Reuters.

Asked where he saw the similarities between the Marcos era and the current day, Diaz said: "Fascism, the populist perspective of this very new government, barbarism - it's very violent - there's paranoia, there's even psychosis in the way they deal with things."

President Rodrigo Duterte has come under international criticism for his human rights record and on Wednesday his spokesman had to react to a U.S. intelligence report that named him as a threat to democracy, saying: "Duterte is no autocrat".

But his opponents fear Duterte will try to cling to power beyond his term that ends in 2022 and are troubled by his admiration for Marcos.

Actor Bart Guingona said that while the movie was nominally about the Marcos era, it felt universal.

"I think one of the theses of the film is that history repeats itself and it's a sad thing but a thing we have to be aware of," he said.

Diaz is known for lengthy films and at the 2016 Berlin film festival he won a Silver Bear for an eight-hour-film called "A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery" ("Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis").

He won the 2016 Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his nearly four-hour-long drama "Ang Babaeng Humayo" ("The Woman Who Left").

"Season of the Devil" is among the 19 films vying for the main prize, the Golden Bear, which will be awarded on Saturday. The festival in the German capital runs until Feb. 25.