Independencia -- Film Review

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A man, a woman and a boy live in a tropical forest hiding from war in "Independencia," one of two films by director Raya Martin on view in Cannes this year. Imitating the black-and-white lighting and shallow depth of field of silent movies, this experimental work is for refined palates only, and even among the cognoscenti there's ample room for discussion. But the film has curiosity value and should pique the interest of festivals.

A young man (Sid Lucero) is brought to the forest by his strong-minded mother (Tetchie Agbayani), who is in favor of the Philippines' independence movement, so it must be the early 20th century. An unseen U.S. Army is occupying the country; we glimpse them in a naive mock-up of an American propaganda film, justifying the soldiers' cold-blooded killing of a village boy.

The boy and his mother set up house in a little hut. The boy finds a girl (Alessandra De Rossi) who may have been abused by U.S. soldiers and brings her home. By and by the mother dies, and the couple have a child. This little boy grows up in the Eden-like forest, where his father hunts for food while mother tends the home fires.

Three problems in paradise: Dad's eyesight is failing, the boy keeps getting lost in the forest and the Americans are closing in. The build-up is slow, but the pay-off does arrive with a long, dramatic typhoon sequence that manages to be forceful, despite the technical limits imposed by Jeanne Lapoirie's black-and-white cinematography, restricted camera movements and depth of field.

Though everything is obviously shot on a studio set with potted plants and a painted backdrop, the effect is to cast the characters into a magical world that can be both quaint and wondrous. Some silent film tropes are deliciously used, like the characters' dreams of sex and violence which are visualized as quaint "bubbles" over the heads of the sleeper.

Sparse dialogue gives actors a chance to work with their strong faces and curious props, like the father's thatch shawl which he wears as camouflage and raincoat in the forest. The score by Lutgardo Labad is varied and dramatic.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Certain Regard

Production companies: Arte France Cinema, Cinematografica, Atopic, Razor Films, Volya Films.

Cast: Sid Lucero, Tetchie Agbayani, Alessandra De Rossi, Mika Anguilos;
Director: Raya Martin
Screenwriters: Ramon Sarmiento, Raya Martin
Producer: Arleen Cuevas
Executive producers: Antoine Segovia, Christophe Gougeon
Director of photography: Jeanne Lapoirie
Production designer: Digo Ricio
Music: Lutgardo Labad
Editor: Jay Halili
Sales Agent: Memento Films International
77 minutes
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