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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lav Diaz's 6-hour film, CENTURY OF BIRTHING (2011)

Lav Diaz

For the past few years, I have always wanted to catch a film by the Filipino director Lav Diaz. Most of his films are longer than four hours (his longest being close to 10 hours), yet he is prolific to make at least a film a year. How is that even possible???

The idea of catching a film with a really lengthy running time is daunting, but they fascinate me because of their ambition and scope. Anything that's more than 4 hours is pretty mindblowing to me, or ballsy about the filmmakers. Edward Yang's 4-hour magnus opus BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, Sono Sion's 4-hour LOVE EXPOSURE (watching it on the big screen was a wonderful experience), Raoul Ruiz's 4.5-hour MYSTERIES OF LISBON, Bela Tarr's 7.5 hour SATANTANGO, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 14-hour BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (okay, this one's really more a 14-part miniseries) etc.

It's like reading a really thick book, by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or, I don't know, Proust? It requires a lot of endurance, but once you get into it, it can sometimes be a very transcendental and transformative experience, and you can never seem to forget these films once you are done with them. (for me, at least)

When Lav Diaz's CENTURY OF BIRTHING (2011) was available for free streaming on Mubi.com (which also hosts WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, the 2009 Woo Ming Jin film that I produced and edited), I immediately dove in. I was lucky, because that was a day before the period of free streaming ended.

I was in the middle of the SECOND LIFE OF THIEVES shoot, so of course, it was impossible for me to finish a 6-hour film in one sitting. So I loaded the entire film in my laptop and caught bits and pieces of it every night before I was about to sleep. After five nights (started watching on November 14, finished it on November 18), I managed to finish the film.

I enjoyed it. Especially when the protagonist Homer (played by Perry Dizon), a tortured filmmaker, makes grandiose proclamations about the art that he (and I) are so committed too. Even when viewing those scenes with detached irony, I cannot help but giggle gleefully and print screen whenever Homer says something awesome.

Like, for example, when a poet friend laments about Homer's financial problems, and says how he (Homer) could have lived like a king if he hadn't spent so much of his own money on his films. Homer replies with...

"Fuck Homer. There is only cinema."


A few other of my favourites include:

Very profound. Homer.

CENTURY OF BIRTHING alternates between Homer's philosophical, existential angst as he is unable to finish his film, and a Christian cult that disintegrates at the arrival of a photographer. Excerpts from Homer's unfinished film WOMAN OF WIND (which I assume is really Lav Diaz's unfinished film) are also interspersed throughout the film.

This is a video of Diaz's press conference at the Venice Film Festival 2011, where the film had its world premiere.

I'm going to share some clips of this film. You can skip them if you want to avoid spoilers...

This is a video essay moment from Homer's film within the film WOMAN OF WIND. It's rather poetic.

This is one of the very first scenes from WOMAN ON WIND, after watching that scene, my reaction was "you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention".

Towards the end of the film, the plot strands intersect in a nice scene that is done in a single uninterrupted take.

This is where the protagonists finally meet.