Lav Diaz’s sublime 4-hour gem History of Ha bore the hallmarks of “slow cinema” and the free-spirited Filipino maestro’s oeuvre – formally rigorous, structured around a metaphorical and deeply existential voyage, infused with trenchant political commentaries, filmed in entrancing single takes and stark B/W, and with continuous interplays between silence and conversations. It’s foregrounded on Philippines’ murky and turbulent political history, wherein even its most respected leader Ramon Magsaysay had problematic shades associated with his stint – his anti-Marxist Cold War interventions, militarism, and links to the US – while two repressive, brutal right-wing rulers, viz. Marcos and Duterte – ironically alluded to as “leader from the South” and “leader from the North” in the film, even if they were deliberately anachronistic as the film is set in 1957 – would dominate the country’s political scenes in the future. Akin to Hou’s masterful The Puppetmaster – which portrayed a puppeteer amidst complex, tragic political forces – the protagonist here’s Hernando (John Lloyd Cruz), a well-known ventriloquist and socialist poet, who retires around the same time as Magsaysay’s death in an aircraft accident. As his country’s dark fate gets sealed and his personal life is thrown into despair upon his fiancée’s decision to marry a landlord to help pay her family’s debts, the lonely and disillusioned man embarks on a directionless cross-country voyage and takes refuge in self-imposed silence – speaking, where unavoidable, through his puppet Ha. During his odyssey, he’s joined by three oddball characters – a do-gooder nun, a brash prostitute and a lost teenager – who all wish to go to an island where gold rush is underway, and finds himself in a disturbing psychological tussle with a despotic local strongman (Teroy Guzman) who’s a Marcos/Duterte stand-in.
Director: Lav Diaz
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Road Movie