It's always hit-or-miss when you choose to see smaller films at festivals shooting for thematic diversity and a multitude of countries of origin. The relative lack of press for "A Short Film About the Indio Nacional" combined with its ostensibly historical perspective on the Philippine Revolution made it a rather attractive alternative at the Copenhagen NatFilm Festival.
The two part movie opens with a completely contrived sequence lasting an eternity. A weepy woman struggles to fall asleep in a small hut as the audience struggles to stay awake through three extraordinarily drawn-out shots eventually showing the woman waking a man at her side. Several heavy sighs later, he resigns to telling her a story -- one which she "can't tell anybody" -- a rather mundane monologue on the suffering Nation punctuated by exaggerated snivels and suppressed tears of the now weepy man. Fade out, end of part I.
One can't really fault the actor for trying to tell the story/dream in a single take with some emotional involvement, it's the director who fails to control his excessive sniffling and provide some kind of believable arc to the emotional build-up and come-down.
Part II is a series of mismatched silent vignettes depicting detailed moments of village life in what's assumed to be the years of the Philippine Revolution (1896-98). A group of boys told to look up at the sky with gaping mouths (one looks like some kind of ghoul with his eyes rolling back into his forehead) in awe of a solar eclipse (explained to us in both an inter-title and an animated smiley-sun covered by an indifferent moon). A traveling acting troupe playing some kind of word association game in-between rehearsals cuts to a young man preparing to join the Katipunan (the nationalist society seeking independence from Spain) and somewhere in there is a shot of two sisters tending to their third sister lying in bed, "dying of slavery".
It's easy to see that the director's intentions are noble, to illuminate a certain way of life via small moments in an otherwise forgotten anti-colonial revolution, but the artistic decisions he makes end up undermining the story of the indios nacional. Each of the silent vignettes is accompanied by the decadent western classical and operatic works of Schumann, Ligeti, Mozart and others. Much like European/American silent film of the teens and 20's, the music often fails to synchronize with the scene's beginning and end (not necessarily a flaw), but here the musical passages seem to have been randomly cut-and-pasted onto various sequences, failing to enrich, amplify or complement the images and instead colonizing them, swallowing them up.
The creative decision to portray this period in Philippino history in silent b/w from the perspective of the indios (not directly involved in the revolution) seems stylistically symbolic for a voiceless population deemed irrelevant and antiquated, forgotten in history. But, how does this film do justice to its subject? Do we actually learn anything about the way the indios lived? Are there any insights (political, moral, social) into the revolution? With such a disjointed storyboard (it can't be called a screenplay; there's no story), it's nearly impossible to see how the nebulous generalities of Part I are cleared up by the equally vague vignettes of Part II.
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