26 VIII 2017, Singapore International Festival of Arts
Last night we went for the Lav Diaz retrospective, with himself and most of his actresses. He is so far the artist that most appeals to me. He is a strange character. In contact he is gentle and humorous, in his films he is harsh and tragic. He writes in the local North Filipino language (Tagalog) and the actresses all respect the beauty of his texts. Which they must know by heart. Meanwhile his camera work is rough and seemingly non-existent. He chooses a frame and asks his actresses to walk into it.
One of the most gripping scenes was of two sisters, of which one is mortally ill and deranged. In the half-dark, one sees the two sisters in the act of ‘euthanasia’; one becoming the strangler, the other the strangled. In the beginning one hears a voice cajoling somebody to wear flowery clothes, the other voice protesting, struggling and finally breaking in the end. The surviving sister carries the other into the surging sea and commits suicide with her. A priest comes too late to prevent this, and falls on his knees, crosses himself and succumbs. It is stark and inevitable and in a way passive. I was moved by this helpless gesture of making the sign of the Cross.
In our later discussion, KS pointed out a difference with Lav’s and Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy. BB incites action, LD accentuates the hopelessness of victimhood. KS places his own work in the lineage of BB, the active rebellious theatre. I place LD’s work in the longer lineage, that of the Greeks with their theatre as exacerbating inevitability. This made KS reply that the Buddha is much on my mind these days, with Buddha’s acceptance of the unchange-ability of the world.
One of the actresses actually tried to explain her approach with the Buddhist term – not awareness but “mindfulness”. The difference is whether one accepts the outcome of mindfulness passively or actively, by teaching compassion or by rebellion. Lav Diaz is fiercely critical of conditions but does not look for solutions. He is a witness, not a leader. Leaders in my definition solve problems. But the problem also has to be articulated.