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What Critics Are Saying About Lav Diaz's 8-Hour Epic, 'Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis'

The Berlin International Film Fest awarded it a trophy. But what do the people who are paid to watch and review movies think?
by Gelo Gonzales | Feb 24, 2016
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"Hele movie."

Google it. The search engine will say you've made a typo, and will suggest that what you're actually looking for is a 2009 drama about an old, depressed professor and not the just-awarded Lav Diaz historical epic set in the time of Rizal and Bonifacio.

The former is called Helen. It has a 44-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The latter is called Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis or by its fancy English name, A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery. It has just bested international counterparts at the recently held 66th Berlin International Film Festival to bag the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize. It's an award, which according to Wikipedia, that is given to films that "opens new perspectives on cinematic art." Also, the trophy is a bear so how awesome is that?

We have no doubt the film opened new perspectives on cinematic art. It's eight hours long, a fact that Diaz has since defended. His thoughts on the matter are out in an article by TheGuardian.com:

"We're labeled 'the slow cinema' but it's not slow cinema, it's cinema. I don't know why...every time we discourse on cinema we always focus on the length.

"It's cinema, it's just like poetry, just like music, just like painting where it's free, whether it's a small canvas or it's a big canvas, it's the same. So cinema shouldn't be imposed on."

But length aside, how good is it really? We've round up what the world's critics have said about Hele here:


"Photographed in magnificently textured high-contrast black and white (and in Academy ratio) by Diaz himself, the film is unfailingly gorgeous and deeply visual—although it’s often uncomfortably heavy on the dialogue, with many scenes filled by long disquisitions on the destiny of the Philippine nation." - Jonathan Romney of Screendaily.com


"Diaz is a naturally gifted filmmaker, clearly a master of his craft and all-knowing creator of his very own genre of film, so I was naturally enthralled with certain characters and conversations. The old, cackling Tikbalang (Bernardo Bernardo), who cries out, 'you're full of microbes!' and neighs and brays? Impossible not to be mesmerized every time he’s on screen. The conversations Captain General (Bart Guingona) has with Simoun and others, listening to him expand on human nature while exhibiting the very worst of it through a veiled evil; wholly compelling stuff. The phantasmagoria elicited from the smoke and fumes of caves and forests tickle every bone of my body. The anguish, pain, and longing emanating from all of the characters, whose names are so often repeated in conversations to create a soothing, anesthetic rhythm, often traveled through the screen and into the marrow of my senses. The beauty of the songs and poems touched me, the plight of the characters even more so, the aspect of learning a whole new world about the Philippine Revolution was gratifyingly cerebral." - Nikola Grozdanovic of Indiewire.com

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"As I said before, if there is one persistent thread in Diaz's filmmaking, then it is his demand on the viewer to leave the cinema auditorium and begin to do a bit of research. That is the beauty of Diaz's films. They are a challenge. You cannot be a passive viewer. If you are, then it is no surprise that you find the films boring, or that you think the films are all the same. This is no different with Hele. It may be enigmatic, but once you push through those eight hours, it becomes a magnificent piece of work." - Nadin Mai of TheArtOfSlowCinema.com

 

"At best, Lullaby is a spellbinding odyssey into the knotty heart of the human condition, an intimate reflection on a nation’s history of oppression. At worst, it is overwrought and plain weird." - Eddie Falvey of Oneroomwithaview.com


"At least Lullaby's' verbiage occasionally, if inadvertently, proves self-chastising: In a film short on laughs, chuckles rippled through the Berlin audience 20 minutes from the close, following one character's solemn promise of relief: 'In a little while, the pain shall end.'" - Guy Lodge of Variety.com


"There is a richness here that strains to be channeled into a focused film. With the whole revolution taking place off-camera, it is also a very interiorized film. Diaz has great feeling for the human comedy, where cowardice and betrayal alternate with heroism and solidarity." - Deborah Young of TheHollywoodReporter.com


"Relying much more on the power of his spectacular images than in the dialogue-heavy early sections, Diaz creates continuously extraordinary tableaux, pitting his characters against nature's monumental insurmountability and endowing their journey with epic momentousness." - Giovanni Camia of TheFilmStage.com

 

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis is currently not scheduled for a local release