Arts & Entertainment

Lav Diaz's New 4-Hour Musical Paints a Painful But Necessary Portrait of The PH Today

'Ang Panahon ng Halimaw' is said to be the auteur's most accessible work yet.
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Up next from Filipino auteur Lav Diaz is Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, a four-hour, monochromatic, sung-through a capella rock opera that's set to hit theaters in the Philippines next Wednesday, May 30. It's been characterized as atypical of Diaz's work, mostly for its unexpected form and its relative brevity (because as we know, some of his other films run for up to eight hours).

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is set in the seventies, and follows poet Hugo Haniway in search of his wife Lorena, who disappeared while working on a medical mission in remote barrios. The film stars Piolo Pascual as Haniway, Shaina Magdayao as Lorena, Angel Aquino as Anghelita, Pinky Amador as Aling Sinta, Bart Guingona as Paham, Hazel Orencio as Teniente, and Joel Saracho as Ahas. Check out the trailer below:

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But Ang Panahon ng Halimaw has also been hailed as one of Diaz's more accessible works, and one with an important, clear-as-day message about the Philippines today. Where most of his previous films were heavily layered and allusive, Halimaw is supposedly more straight-to-the-point. Speaking at a press conference, Pinky Amador—who in the film plays Aling Sinta—says, "Out of all of Lav Diaz's films, this is probably his most straightforward and accessible. It really doesn't take much—this one is beyond obvious."

To explain further, Bart Guingona, who plays Paham, gave a succinct peek into the film's plot and significance. "It tells you that it happened in the seventies. And it happens in a small town, [where a] civilian paramilitary took over," he says. "It really just shows the dangers of authoritarianism and autocracy and militarization." To clue us in further, Guingona also said, "Gusto ko lang sabihin—and good luck to me—na nung sinulat ito ni Lav, kasalukuyang nangyayari 'yung nangyari kay Leila de Lima. Ergo..." [He motions to his co-star, Amador] "A woman who was condemned by society, unjustly."

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The unambiguity of Halimaw's message is echoed by an earlier review by The Hollywood Reporter: "Diaz has made Season [of the Devil] a more straightforward affair probably because he feels he could no longer dress things up as allegory," writes Clarence Tsui. The reviewer believes that in his previous films, "Diaz was merely issuing a heart-wrenching warning against the possibility of history repeating itself," whereas Ang Panahon ng Halimaw "is his cri de coeur about how his plea has gone unheeded."

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But even as the film's messages are clear, members of the cast still believe that as ever, Diaz expects the audience to put in work. "As an audience member, it takes your participation—to voluntarily sit through four hours of very, very difficult, honest situations; and allow all these feelings to stew," says Bituin Escalante, who plays Kwentista. "You're in a dark theatre, receiving all this, and it leaves you very vulnerable."

With this, Guingona concurs. "[Lav Diaz] is one of the directors who requires equal commitment from the audience. You won't sit back. Hindi kayo magse-cellphone. It requires you to be as committed and as involved as those who created it. 'Yun ang definition ng tunay na sining. 'Yung nagpo-provoke ng participation, actively, doon sa audience."

So it's looking as though Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is another very important addition to the canon of Filipino cinema, especially in light of our country's political present. Catch the film when it hits select Ayala Malls theaters next week.

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