Interview with multi-task actress Hazel Orencio


Hazel Orencio is a Filipino actress discovered by Lav Diaz in 2010. Her filmography includes Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012), Norte, The End of History (2013), Prologue To The Great Desaparecido (2013), From What Is Before (2014), A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery (2016), Season of the Devil (2018), The Halt (2019)… While acting in Lav Diaz’s films, she has quickly over time taken a pivotal role in Sine Olivia Pilipinas, Diaz’s production company.

As a student, you chose to embrace theatre. Is it what you always wanted to do? What was your motivation then?
I’ve always wanted to become a stage actress ever since. My Uncle, who is a painter, used to bring me to his school when he was in college and he will take me to watch stage plays. Since then, I told myself I wanted to become an actress.
Looking at the photos of the actors in the playbill, I remember I was 8 or 9 years old then and we’ve watched a fantasy children’s play, and I told myself, someday, I want my photo to be seen also in playbills. I thought acting is a really cool job. I want to dress up and play different roles. 

How and when did your collaboration with Lav start as an actress?
I auditioned for the role Gregoria De Jesus (Prologue To The Great Desaparecido, A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery) in 2010. I was asked to go to the studio of the director for a go-see upon the recommendation of our theater director, Adriana Agcaoili. I went, and there was the casting director, who introduced himself as Romeo Lee, and his then-camera assistant, Willy Fernandez. The casting director said we should wait a bit for Lav because he was stuck in traffic. I waited with them, and then they asked me to study the script while waiting. Afterwards, the casting director said the director can’t make it and that we should proceed. They made me read lines in the script. After that, I went home. And then I was left wondering what kind of audition was that; a director not making it in the audition because he was stuck in traffic. I didn’t know what Lav looked like so I immediately searched online and when I finally realized he was with us all along – « Romeo Lee »! –, I was embarrassed! So I didn’t really expect to get the role at all, but then I got a follow-up text asking me to attend the second call. I nearly went to the studio with a costume, just to make up for my mistake of not knowing how Lav looked like. But then, when I arrived, they were already having a party. The party was for me, because they said I got the role. I was very shocked… That’s how I met Lav! [Laughs]

Having now worked on not far from 10 films with Lav as an actress, what would you say is unique about Lav’s directing his actors/actresses? How would you define his directing style?
We are most free with Lav. We are free to do anything as long as it is in character. Shooting films with Lav is doing a collaborative work and he really considers our inputs as actors to the script that he’s writing (he writes the script every shooting day). He really acknowledges everyone’s participation, not just the actors but also the crew, and never fails to thank everyone on the set every day. That kind of importance that he gives to everyone matters a lot. He is never the type to take the credit of the merits of the film all to himself; it is always a collaborative work for him.  For example, for Century of Birthing, a film with absolutely no script from the beginning, Lav just told me my role is a mad, pregnant woman. During my first scenes, I started doing movements for the role and also hummed a tune and Lav connected the tune to a song my character used to sing when she was still sane, which later on became the famous “Amang Tiburcio Song” which was sung frequently in the film.

What was the hardest scene and/or role you played?
Every role is hard; every film, every role is a challenge. When working with Lav, we will always be challenged and we will always be taken out of our comfort zones, all the more since Lav is a one-take director. One of the scenes I remember that were specifically hard was Gregoria De Jesus’ confrontation scene with Cesaria Belarmino in A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery. I play Gregoria De Jesus,  searching for her husband Andres Bonifacio’s missing body. And in that scene Cesaria Belarmino (played by Alessandra de Rossi) confesses she is the reason for the collapse of Andres Bonifacio’s rebellion. She is the reason of the execution of Gregoria De Jesus’ husband. I (the character) was so mad, I gave my all at that scene to the point I actually had a blackout when I did that scene. I was so blown away that I was literally eaten up by anger so I fell before I got up again and went for the big rock! I was practically shaking after that scene! I remember watching the film and that scene in Berlin – the film was in Official Competition at Berlinale 2016. Alessandra and I were holding hands, crying. It wass like we were not the ones acting on screen. It’s a memorable scene for me.

Can you tell us more about your role in Prologue To The Great Desaparecido ?
I play Gregoria De Jesus, the wife of Philippine hero Andres Bonifacio. Gregoria De Jesus is the wife of Andres Bonifacio – a hero who didn’t die in the war but whose execution was ordered by his comrade. His body was never found.
As with most of Lav’s film, it just took us a week to shoot it, and two weeks in preparation. To prepare for the role, I remember reading Santiago Alvarez’s “Katipunan and The Revolution”. Since it is written like a diary type, I was reading chapter per chapter so that I take the emotion on the next day when we shoot.
While reading the book, I intentionally did not sleep nor wash, in order not to lose the feeling, the momentum. Gregoria De Jesus searched for Andres Bonifacio’s body in the mountains for thirty harrowing days.

Have you ever contemplated acting in other filmmakers’ films?
I appeared in some of the films of other directors like Ron Bryant ( Bingoleras ) and Paul Soriano ( Duko ). It is different because with those two films, there’s already a script prior to shooting and all we had to do is execute the script line per line, word by word. It is a breath of fresh air, I would say, working with different directors but it is a totally different set-up mainly because these productions have plenty of crew with them (around 70-100 people) and a lot of equipments compared to Lav’s skeletal team and minimal equipment and very organic process. I am open to working with other directors but I see to it that the directors are very open with discussions. But for now, since Sine Olivia is a small company with only me and Lav running it, I am very loaded with work so I really don’t have time to accept other roles from other films/directors.

You’re also credited as an assistant director, production manager, casting director, editing assistant, post production supervisor, costume designer, production designer, location scout in many of Lav’s films.
I love all of my positions! Multi-tasking is something I was trained to do in theater. When I was a part of the chorus in theater, I was also a wardrobe assistant and an assistant production manager. I love the adrenaline high that I’m getting doing all the production works. I did that for a friend, Mac Alejandre, back in 2018 for the film Kaputol, but I don’t want to do it again for other filmmakers. I’d only do it for Lav.

If you were to choose between acting and working in production, what would you ultimately choose and why?
Acting. Whenever we shoot, it is when I act that I get to “rest”; I get to be in a different world, in a different spectrum. It’s like I am living a different life apart from mine. There are many roles I wish to do, so many characters, but I can’t play all of them in my lifetime. So I am dedicating my life to acting (but still doing production work on the side). I won’t stop.

What was/were the most difficult obstacle(s) you ran into during production?
I think those times when actors and crew members back out last minute, or a family member of an actor dies and we have to replace him last minute. It’s really hard to get a replacement.
Political pressure is also among the reasons actors sometimes had to back out… It’s not simple…

How would you describe the movie industry in the Philippines?
It is vibrant, I have to say. We have a lot of creative filmmakers here. But sadly, like everywhere else I guess, the distribution system is cruel like if a film isn’t earning much during its commercial run, it is being pulled out in theaters. The only hope of films being shown/showcased is through local film festivals and streaming platforms. The government isn’t also helpful also with this kind of system. In fact, to be able to screen a film, you would have to deal with a lot of bureaucratic permits and payments. This is why despite the acclaims of Lav’s film, they rarely get shown here in the Philippines…

Exclusive: PROLOGUE TO THE DESAPARECIDO by Lav Diaz is available to stream for free until June 5, 2020 in the WHAT’S ON section!

Interview by Françoise Duru

MADE IN BANGLADESH by Rubaiyat Hossain


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5 A social feminist film that questions women's empowerment in a country with long-time patriarchal traditions and simultaneously highlights the ruthless capitalistic logic serving developed countries...)

Shimu, 23, works in a clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Faced with increasingly harsh conditions at work, she decides with her colleagues to set up a union. Shimu must continue despite threats from the management and disapproval of her husband. Together, the women must fight and find a way.
Rubbaiyat Hossain’s third feature film takes us behind the scenes at a textile factory where we discover the lives of exploited female workers, who decide to rebel against managerial authority for better or for worse. MADE IN BANGLADESH features Rikita Nandini Shimu, who acted in Hossain’s previous film UNDER CONSTRUCTION, and world premiered at Toronto International Film Festival.

(মেড ইন বাংলাদেশ)
A film by Rubaiyat Hossain

With Rikita Nandini Shimu, Novera Rahman, Deepanita Martin
2019 – Bangladesh/Denmark/France/Portugal – Social drama – 95 mins – Color – Aspect ratio 1.85:1 – 5.1 Sound – Audio: Bengali
International distribution: Pyramide International

Screenplay:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
Mise en scène:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
Interpretation:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Making a film in Bangladesh: interview with Mostafa Sarwar Farooki


Mostofa Sarwar Farooki is a filmmaker and producer from Bangladesh. His first international breakthrough took place in 2009 with Third Person Singular Number (Bengali: থার্ড পারসন সিঙ্গুলার নাম্বার ) featuring Nusrat Imrose Tisha in her acting debut. The film premiered at Busan International Film Festival then was presented in Europe at Rotterdam International Film Festival.
Farooki’s following feature film
Television was chosen as the Closing Film of Busan International Film Festival in 2012.
“A key exemplar of Bangladeshi new wave cinema movement” according to Variety, festival darling Farooki has just received two prizes at Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema for his film
Saturday Afternoon (Shonibar Bikel), which is banned in Bangladesh.

How did you become a filmmaker? What was your journey toward filmmaking?
I really don’t recall when it all started. I was brought up in a typical middle class neighborhood named Nakhalpara in Dhaka. People from this area have a great storytelling tradition. In my childhood, I would see hundreds of amazing storytellers in local tea stalls. They would sit there for hours telling all possible and impossible stories. In those tea stalls, they would mostly create fake stories and used to tell them in most believable ways. Some of them would tell fake stories about their rich relatives, some would tell stories about their greatness and fortune. I used to think why they lie but didn’t have the answer ready. When I grew up, I realized why they lie. They lie because sometimes lies comfort our souls. I think growing up among such amazing storytellers might have just pushed the basic human instinct of storytelling in me.
I faintly remember getting a video camera in my hand when I was in high school. It belonged to some of my relatives, I guess. Bit what I clearly remember is my dress and action. That image is planted in my mind so vividly. I was wearing a white shirt with sleeves up and trying to capture the panoramic view of the road in front of my maternal uncle’s house. At one point, one of my cousin came to see what I am doing. And he started to shoot me. I remember I gave a director-like pose with two of my hands framing something. Now I remember it was a pose which I subconsciously copied from one of Satyajit Ray’s famous photograph at work. I didn’t learn filmmaking from any school or any mentor though. I jumped into the water and learnt  swimming. In other words, I consider myself to be a lifelong student of world university of mistakes. I learn from my own mistakes.

Are there a lot of filmmakers in Bangladesh including arthouse filmmakers? Are there film schools in Bangladesh? Where do most filmmakers from Bangladesh learn about cinema and filmmaking?
There is no film school in Bangladesh. People mostly learn the craft and art of it by assisting other directors. In early eighties, there was an independent short film movement in Bangladesh. It gave birth to films like The Wheel by Morshedul Islam (Chaka), which has been included in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s favorite 50 films by the way. This movement gave birth filmmaker like Tareque Masud whose 2002 film Clay Bird was in Directors’ Fortnight. Although this movement didn’t go any further but it influenced a newer generation of filmmakers who capitalized on the evolution of digital medium and mushrooming of satellite television in Bangladesh. I actually belong to that generation. We started making short films or fiction films for television channels. Although we worked for TV, our basic intention was to practice the cinematic style of our own. It resulted into a paradigm shift in audience’s taste and filmmakers’ visual style. In the meantime, some of our films went to international festivals like Toronto and Rotterdam. But ever since Busan selected Television as their closing film in 2012, Bangladeshi cinema constantly saw an uptick. Lot of younger filmmakers are now coming out with fresh ideas, dreams, and hope.
Although there is no proper ecosystem to support local talents, I believe our cinema will be able to make a mark in the coming years thanks to the undying spirit of our younger filmmakers.

How do independent Bangladeshi filmmakers finance their films? Are there producers?
Well, financing is big problem. We have a very few financiers who finance in independent films. Government has a funding system which is probably for some special kind of films or people.  The way you know the term « producer » is very different than how Bangladeshi industry knows. In Bangladesh, people who finance a film are called producers. And directors mostly work as uncredited producers in those films. So it’s a kind of mess.
To give you an idea of the average budget of my films, the production budget of Television was about 300,000 USD. And the production budget of Saturday Afternoon, which was presented in Busan film festival last year and just received two prizes at Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema, was 400,000 USD.

How many independent/arthouse films (like yours) are produced every year? How many are released in Bangladesh?
At one point, it was three to four a year. Now it’s down to one or two.
From a global point of view (including commercial films), Bangladesh used to produce about 52 films a year. Now it has come down to 20 films.

Have your movies been released in Bangladesh? If so, how did the audience react?
Yes, all my films have been released in Bangladesh and it mostly enjoyed some kind of following by young audience. However censorship has always been an issue for me. I made seven films so far. Out of seven, five films suffered at the hand of censor board. I now feel it has started making me tired. I hope it doesn’t cripple my spontaneous thought process. But it is really annoying!
In January 2019, the Bangladesh Film Censor Board banned the theatrical release of my latest film, Saturday Afternoon. That decision is actually a mystery to me! After the screening of the film at the censor board, they called me to let me know they appreciated the film. Some of them even gave interviews in the local press, praised the film and mentioned the film would be issued a certificate soon. Two days later, I started to see an online campaign by some Islamic preachers that demanded the film be banned. In 24 hours, those preaching videos were shared thousands of times. They said all false things against the film without even watching the film. Two days later, the censor board called for an unprecedented second screening of the film. After the second screening, they decided not to issue a certificate. We have appealed against the decision, which is still pending.

How would you define Bangladeshi cinema? Is there a specific cultural identity? A specific history/evolution?
Bangladeshi cinema has typically been a copycat of Indian mainstream or Kolkata art house (the Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen way). There have few exceptions but that’s the general picture. When we started to make films, we defied to follow this. We decided to follow our own hearts. We picked stories from our daily lives. We discarded the traditional stylized acting. We got rid of bookish and fake dialogues. It helped us connect with a big young population but it also angered the establishment. So lot of debate started to surface regarding our use of dialogue, Bengali accent, choice of subjects. However the beautiful part is Bangladeshi cinema has started to be personal. Our films started to reflect our personalities. I think, if we can continue like this and can keep making more films, we will see some kind of collective identity of Bangladeshi cinema.

How would you define your own cinematographic style, your vision or point of view as an auteur?
Well, I want rest it upon the audience and critics. However if I have no other option but to tell something about my cinematic vision or style, I would say I am probably an explorer, an experimenter. I want to experience things in their most uninhibited forms and want my audience to experience my work of art like an explorer. I want my cast to act true and be completely unaware of the audience’s presence.
During the shooting of Saturday Afternoon, most of the cast actually started to live in the zone psychologically. So at one point, they didn’t have to act as they started to respond from their instinct. Among them, the old gentleman, who played the role of Mr. Mojammel Huq, he really got unwell because of the trauma. Once our shooting was over, he was admitted into PG hospital as his blood pressure shot was so high!

You founded Chabial movement, which is considered a Bangladeshi avant-garde cinema movement. Can you tell us more about that?
Chabial is basically my production company. The productions that we made might have influenced a paradigm shift in traditional Bangladeshi visual storytelling to a more personal kind of filmmaking with the use of humor, fantasy, absurdity and emotion. I don’t know whether people hint to this influence when they talk about Chabial. Also I have helped a good number young filmmakers learn the craft of storytelling through on job training. This infused a lot of energy and fresh blood into the industry. Maybe people mean this when they talk about Chabial.

What was the last film you saw in cinema that you really liked?
I know it may sound too mainstream after four historic Oscar wins, for which I am obviously happy, it’s PARASITE! Even if it’s probably not Bong’s best film, the great thing about this film is the sheer smoothness and easy confidence of the director. If the same script were made by another director, there would have been every risk of being too cheesy, too obvious and wishful! Bong Joon-ho’s masterful direction made it a smooth and believable film.

Interview by Françoise Duru



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5 First time director Gu Xiaogang has accomplished an outstanding feature with both elegance and simplicity that – literally and figuratively – make that three-generation family saga a painting imprinted with gentle poetry and remarkable accuracy while avoiding the pitfalls of formalism.)

One family’s destiny, rhythmed by the course of nature, the changing seasons, the life of a river.
Gu Xiaogang’s debut feature DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS – the closing film of Cannes Film Festival International Critics’ Week in 2019 – owes its name to one of the most famous 14th century Chinese handscroll painted by Huang Gongwang and is the first part of a trilogy, the following parts of which will literally unfold along the Yangtze River.

(春江水暖, Chun Jiang Shui Nuan)
A film by Gu Xiaogang

With Qian Youfa, Wang Fengjuan, Zhang Renliang, Zhang Guoying, Sun Zhangjian, Sun Zhangwei, Du Hongjun, Peng Luqi, Zhuang Yi
2019 – China – Drama – 154 min – 1.85:1 Aspect ratio – 5.1 DTS Sound – Audio: Mandarin and Fuyang dialect
World premiere: May 22, 2019 (Cannes Film Festival)

Screenplay:4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Mise en scène:4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Interpretation:4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A brief introduction to shanshui and Huang Gongwang’s “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”


« Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains » (富春山居圖), Gu Xiaogang’s beautiful first feature film, which premiered at Cannes International Critics’ Week in 2019, is first and foremost the title of a Chinese handscroll masterpiece in the « shanshui » (山水) genre, which describes a traditional form of Chinese landscape painting1Traditional Chinese painting can be classified into three categories: figure painting, landscape painting, and flowers and birds painting. featuring mountains and water (rivers and waterfalls) – « shan » (山) means « mountain » and « shui » (水) means « water ».

“Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” (detail from « The Master Wuyong Scroll » part)

Shanshui paintings are designed to be viewed from bottom to top as far as hanging scrolls (vertical compositions) are concerned, and from right to left as far as handscrolls (horizontal compositions) are concerned, revealing one scene at a time – as is the case with Huang Gongwang’s painting, which inspired Gu Xiaogang’s film. As each new section is unrolled, the previous scene is rolled up, giving the viewer the feeling of a journey through the landscape, which offers the experience of moving through space and time – the time dimension usually being the privilege of literary or musical expression. Viewing section by section calls for particular kinds of engagement on the part of the viewer moving forward, stopping and going back.
Taoist philosophy strongly influenced the development of the ancient Chinese landscapes as an art form. Thus, Taoism emphasizes that humans are insignificant in the great cosmic flow of nature. Ancient Chinese landscapes depict humans as mere specks and exhibit a great veneration for the forces of nature.
Furthermore, the balance of yin and yang was essential in the design of the landscape painting. Mountains are tall and robust, representing yang, whereas water is soft and flowing, representing yin.
The intrinsic complementarity of mountain and water lied in the featured alternation between full and empty, between inked and white surfaces. It complied with the cosmic yin-yang movement that drove the binary structure of the creative process. Ancient Chinese philosophy emphasizes that true painting must embody not only the form but also the spirit of the subject. The depiction of outward beauty in itself is not enough, as the artist seeks to capture the inner vitality of nature. The outward appearance of a natural phenomenon must be portrayed in tune with its spirit and energy, so realism never was the artist’s ultimate purpose. It’s eventually about the artist’s perception of an inner reality and wholeness.
Shanshui paintings also involve a complicated and rigorous set of requirements for balance, composition, and form. Each painting contains three basic elements, “paths” – always tortuous; may be one or several rivers –, a “threshold” – of a mountain or of heaven –, and the “heart” or focal point – onto which converge all the elements, the heart defining the meaning of the painting.

For director Gu Xiaogang, Chinese and Western aesthetic approaches are very different: « China and the West have their own artistic aesthetics. There is no better or worse, but just differences. Western painting pays attention to express the space, while Chinese traditional landscape painting attempt to play the game of time, in order to archive a sense of universe – eternity of time and infinity of space. To accomplish this, sometimes it strategically sacrifices other elements, as realistic expression of lights and shadows. Just as Huang Gongwang, the painter of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, he constantly adjusted the focal point of the painting, and constructed various angles into an unified and complete visual experience. The viewers are sometimes situated in the sky, sometimes down to the earth, sometimes into the forest, as they are flowing and tripping. It totally surpasses the shackles of two-dimensional painting.
The way the ancients opened the scroll painting was also from right to left, slowly. More images and further plots are seen little by little only with the rolling. It’s somehow like a film movie.»

“Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” (detail from « The Remaining Mountain » part)

It’s by the end of his life that Huang Gongwang (1269–1354) painted « Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains », a handscroll measuring over 22 feet in length. Huang Gongwang is the oldest of the group of Chinese painters later known as the « Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty » (1206-1368).
The Yuan dynasty (元四家), aka the Mongol dynasty, was the first non-Han Chinese dynasty to rule all of China from 1279 until 1368. It was founded by Kubilai Khan, the grandson of Gengis Khan.

The Mongols conquest enforces a bitter new political reality consequent to China, which for the first time was under foreign rule. As the Mongols had no tradition of employing scholars as administrators, many Chinese scholars and artists were excluded from the Yuan court. Many of these elites turned to private retreats for sanctuary and turned their estates into places for literary and cultural gatherings. They identified themselves as literati through their poetry, calligraphy, and painting and used painting as a vehicle for self-expression and no longer took truth to nature as their goal.
This was the context for Huang Gongwang’s masterpiece – considered influential for the development of artistic foundations for later literari landscape painters in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644)1912) dynasties.

« Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains » changed owners multiple times and ended up in the hands of an art collector who, on his deathbed in 1650, decided to burn it so he could still savor it in the afterlife. Fortunately a family member saved it but the painting had already been torn in two parts. The first part, known as « The Remaining Mountain » (剩山圖), is 51.4 centimeters long and now an important work in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum collection in Hangzhou. The latter section, called « The Master Wuyong Scroll » (無用師卷), composed of six joined pieces of paper and measuring 636.9 centimeters long, entered the Qing imperial collection in 1746 and ranks as a national treasure of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
In 2011, these two parts of the masterpiece landscape were reunited for the first time in 360 years when they were displayed together at an exhibition at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Watch the English-subtitled video produced by the National Palace Museum below to learn more:

Tonglao S. Epinal

Tonglao S. Epinal is a photographer and video artist, who contributed to several magazines as a freelance writer and frequently travels to South East Asia for her works and research. She is currently working on a documentary feature that explores the relationship between the legacy of Soviet cinema and the paradox of censorship in the development of Asian cinema from 1956 to 1986.

Montagnes et eaux. La culture du Shanshui, Yolaine Escande, Paris, Hermann, 2005.
Das aguas da montanha à paisagem, Adriana Verissimo Serrão (dir.), Filosofia e arquitectura da paisagem, Centro de filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa, 2012, trad. Augustin Berque.
Chinese Shan Shui Painting Through the Yuan Dynasty, Mike Cai, The Epoch Times, 14/01/2019.
Premiers éléments d’un petit dictionnaire de la peinture chinoise, in catalogue « Trésors du Musée national du Palais, Taipei » from October 22, 1998 to January 25, 1999 at Grand Palais, Simon Leys.
Being in the Dry Zen Landscape, Robert Wicks, The Journal of Aesthetic Education Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2004.
Huang Gongwang, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, Hung Chen, Khan Academy, 2016.

FIRST LOVE by Takashi Miike


3.3 out of 5 stars (3.3 / 5 Like it or not, Takashi Miike is a master at blending genres from yakuza films to gory pulp and slapstick romance: FIRST LOVE is a deranged, hilarious, frantic, exhilarating Long Day's Journey into Night!)

Taking place over one night in Tokyo, Leo, a down-on-his-luck young boxer meets his first love, Monica, a call girl and an addict but who is still an innocent. Monica unwittingly gets caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme, and the two are pursued through the night by a corrupt cop, a yakuza, Leo’s nemesis and a female assassin sent by the Chinese Triads.
Cult and prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (AUDITION, DEAD OR ALIVE, VISITOR Q, ICHI THE KILLER, HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI) returns with a 103rd film that blends the yakuza eiga genre with romance and black comedy. FIRST LOVE world premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and was screened at numerous international film festivals (Toronto, Busan, London, Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro and many more).

(初恋, Hatsukoi)
A film by Takashi Miike

With Masataka Kubota, Nao Ōmori, Shōta Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Becky
2019 – Japan/UK – Pulp noir / Black comedy / Romance – 108 min – Aspect ratio 1.85:1 – 5.1 Sound – Audio: Japanese
World premiere: May 17, 2019 (Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight)

Screenplay:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
Mise en scène:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
Interpretation:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)



3.3 out of 5 stars (3.3 / 5 Halfway between film noir and a mystic journey, HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS is a strange and riveting incursion into Bhutanese culture.)

In the remote Bhutan, an undercover detective investigates the case of a missing Buddhist nun and falls into a risky alliance with his only suspect, an alluring young woman known as the village “demoness”…
HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS is Dechen Roder’s debut film as a director and a screenwriter -and one of the very few women in her field in Bhutan. The film world premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2018, in the Panorama section, and traveled in many international film festivals, from Busan to Hong Kong, not to mention Fribourg or Vesoul, to name a few.

(Munmo Tashi Khyidron)
A film by Dechen Roder

With Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, Sonam Tashi Choden
2016 – Bhutan – Mystic film noir – 118 min – Aspect ratio 1.85:1 – 5.1 Sound – Audio: Dzongkha
French theatrical release: October 24, 2018
Watch the film on VOD here

Screenplay:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
Mise en scène:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
Interpretation:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Interview with Thinley Choden (Dakinny Productions, Thimphu, BT)


Thinley Choden is a producer and social entrepreneur from Bhutan. Her first film project was the Emmy Award winning documentary Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness in 2007, on which she worked as an advisor. In 2008 she successfully established READ Bhutan – a non-profit organization that is part of the READ Global network (READ for Rural Education And Development) – , which she headed until 2014, and produced a series of short documentaries directed by Dechen Roder. In 2015, Choden collaborated on Dechen Roder’s first feature film Honeygiver Among the Dogs – which premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2017 – assisting in fundraising, publicity and taking the role of an investor and presenter of the film. She is currently co-producing Roder’s second feature film, I, the Song.

You are a film producer in Bhutan. Can you tell us how you ended up as a producer?
My journey towards film producing is actually a combination of coincidences. It just came organically, mainly because of my friend Dechen Roder –whose films I’m producing. When I first started my non-profit organization in 2008, she made promotional videos for my organization. And before that, in 2003, when I was in Hawaii, I helped a friend a mine –a documentary filmmaker and a photographer living in Hawaii–, who wanted to make a documentary on Bhutan about the development of the Gross National Happiness philosophy. So my path toward film producing was not a continuous journey. But how it came together was with Dechen Roder. With her first feature film, HONEY GIVER AMONG THE DOGS, I came in as a gap funder. I wasn’t fully on board as a producer but still helped her here and there through my involvement in the film… With her second feature, I, THE SONG, she asked me to come on board to help her as a producer. and that’s what I’m doing… although I know I don’t have the full experience of producing a film. But in Bhutan we don’t have production houses nor an actual film production culture: noone becomes a film producer by design. The director is usually the producer, the financier and everything –all roles in one. Most are learning on the job. For I, THE SONG, Dechen is the director and writer of the film but also the coproducer. As far as I’m concerned, I got into film production because Dechen asked me. I had a lot of experience in fundraising thanks to my other activities and I developed a network too. My entrepreneur background did help as I was able to jump in without having prior technical qualities of film production. The stake is more about how quickly you learn and adapt to a new environment and handle situations.

Are there specific funds in Bhutan or do you resort to private financing only ?
It’s private financing only. We don’t have government funding or film funds in Bhutan. Even for commercial films, you must either find financiers or just get a bank loan. It’s very easy to recoup your money as far as commercial mainstream movies are concerned though. Although our population is very small, there is a strong demand for local content –local mainstream films, that is.
For I, THE SONG (estimate budget: USD 390,000), we’re applying for grants –especially from organizations like the UN and other organizations that are either gender-related or women empowerment-related, or also deal with media literacy because I, THE SONG is very much about digital media exploitation… We look at different angles of how we can link the issues of the film and we apply for grants from those organizations. We also contact businesses and offer exposure to them through the film poster or the film credits since it is screened at international film festivals and in Bhutan as well. That’s how we can get sponsors and the funding in Bhutan.

How did you meet Dechen Roder ?
Dechen and I went to the same high school. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers. We went to the same boarding school in India. Then we both went to college in the US –but she went to film school whereas I studied economics and international relations. Not in the same city nor in the same state though. Then we both came back to Bhutan after college and that’s when we reconnected again.

How would you describe Dechen Roder’s cinema?
Dechen is a very noir-style filmmaker. She has a liking for thrillers and mystery. She likes to tell stories in a very complex way so that the audience needs to engage with the cinematographic universe she creates in order to fully embrace it. Her films have a philosophical aspect that mingles traditions and spirituality, which are so important in Bhutan. You can not ignore that in the modern landscape. Her films are very… female-centric too –I tend to stay away from using the word ‘feminist’ because I think there are very subjective connotations depending on who you talk to [laughs]. Her stories are always told from the perspective of the women whatever the story context.

“Honeygiver Among The Dogs” by Dechen Roder

Is it unusual in Bhutan’s culture ? Is it a patriarchal society ?
We have a matrimonial practice. Property, everything, goes through the mother to the daughter. When you marry, the husband moves into the daughter’s house. The women inherit property.
In our region, women are actually quite empowered and respected: every family would rather have daughters than sons! Women have, if not equal, more moral rights. From that sense, it’s very progressive.
But as far as cultural practice is concerned, in terms of private space vs public space consideration for instance –with respect to women in leadership, women involved in businesses, filmmaking, making decisions at a national level and son on–, you don’t see many women: it’s mainly male-dominated. My own theory is that Bhutan’s education started only in the 60s. Until then, the only way to get education was to join the clergy –that is, become a monk or a nun. Until then, people worked the land, looked after the land. The land looked after you. You didn’t really need to go beyond that. You know, Bhutan was never colonized. We lived in our own culture and time frame. We have always been sheltered from global trends whatsoever. In the 60s, when the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck,  started to encourage modern education practice, a lot of parents didn’t know what education was, there were no schools in Bhutan. The government recruited students to be sent to India to get education. Still now there are still a lot of kids going to boarding schools there. For parents who never traveled beyond a village let alone outside Bhutan, they didn’t know what education meant, and sending kids abroad was a big threat. Daughters were not expendable, they were precious. So they hid their daughters and would send their sons instead. Daughters needed to stay because they needed to look after the family property. So in the process, a lot of girls didn’t go to school. My mother didn’t actually go to school. My grand-mother hid my mother in the granary as the government people went from house to house to recruit students!
Over the years, as Bhutan was modernizing and bureaucracy became more and more educated –the minimum these days is to have a college degree–, women were unable to participate to the public space because they didn’t have the required education/qualification. Only men are seen in the public space. So over the years, the public has been so used to seeing men in leadership positions, they tend to think men do a better job. So it all started with good intentions from the parents, but now it has backfired –good intentions may lead to bad income… It has taken root in the patriarchal public narrative and expectations so that we have a matrimonial practice but very patriarchal attitudes and expectations. Also it is true that in the rural areas, you really have to choose who to keep at home, who is more helpful at home. Normally it’s the girls –they look after the family and the house… With the new generations though, women are just as active in the home space as in the public space. Now there are more and more girls and women that do far better than boys and men. There are very few but when there are, they do far better than men –and not just in Bhutan from my point of view! [laughs]

Are there a lot of women filmmakers in Bhutan?
Very few! There are about 5 female directors (short and feature films). Dechen is the second and currently only female director making international art house films. It’s a pretty male-dominated industry for the reasons mentioned before. There are a lot of women in acting but not directing. Dechen is the only one who made her name on both the national and international scene.

So I guess there are not a lot of women producers in Bhutan either?
No… [laughs] Also in Bhutan when one thinks of a producer, they just think of someone shelling out money. They’ll target someone who has the money, and that person will just give the money and not be involved in the creative process. Which is a definition in itself. But not in the way I work with Dechen.

Do you plan to produce films by other filmmakers from Bhutan or from other countries later on?
Right now, I see myself helping Dechen make more films in the future. But If I see someone come up with as much talent as Dechen, then why  not? I’m not interested in mainstream commercial films though because there are enough of them out there and they are not necessarily content-driven. It’s more market-driven –not judging that though, it’s fine. I’m just more interested in more arthouse creative processes. Also, I keep telling Dechen once we get to the point we’re both comfortable in terms of our confidence in all this, it would be very helpful to launch a producer’s workshop in Bhutan. Not many people understand what the true meaning and true work of a producer is –and actually even that of a director or a screenwriter!

Are Dechen Roder’s films considered arthouse in Bhutan ? How does the market/audience react to her movies ?
They are considered arthouse. Mainstream Bhutanese films are very Bollywood-like: songs, dance, drama, love, cries etc… [laughs] Her films are considered independent.
How does the market react ? Not so well… [laughs] We are a country of 750,000 people. Even if each person buys a ticket –which is not realistic with respect to the babies, the elderly, the people living in the rural areas–, the market is very small to begin with. Our generation appreciates her films better. But my mother’s generation: they’re not impressed by the aesthetics, the picture frame, the cinematographic style etc. They understand the story but don’t see the point, they want to be entertained… Again, I think it has to do with education, which the previous generations didn’t have access to.

How many movie theaters/screens are there in Bhutan ?
There are 5 actual theaters in entire Bhutan. As for the rest, we don’t really have real cinemas. We have screens.  We usually hire simple halls to screen movies: we just hire a hall and put a screen up. There are 20 districts. In each district, there are about 5 screens per district. So there may be about 100 screens in total –mostly single-screen ‘cinemas’ or maybe with 2 screens max. A lot of the screens are all individually and privately-owned. In a way, it’s democratized: there are no multiplexes nor franchises. And it’s a good business because films compete to find space.
For HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS, it was so difficult to get screens. We only had morning times and could only book the theater for ten days. Mainstream films usually book screens for one month. The minimum is 2 weeks but if they think it can do well, they book it for one month. When we come in, whatever space we can get, we squeeze in. And in Bhutan, you have to do everything: you book the theater, you pay the owner uprfont, then marketing, publicity, everything, is done by ourselves. We sit at the ticket counter, we sell the tickets. We do everything!
Sometimes we recoup the costs, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we make a profit.
If you own a theater, you don’t have to do anything because the director has to do everything! So owning and running a theater in Bhutan is definitely a good business!

How many films are produced and released every year in Bhutan ?
On a yearly basis, I’d say 20 films are produced and released –with 95% if them being mainstream films. In addition, maybe one or two international arthouse films are released.

Are there any film critics in Bhutan ?
No, there aren’t. We get ‘reviews’ but those are rather news coverage. Facts. Not actual film reviews.

How did the international audience react to HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS?
Dechen’s first feature film was released in France, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and traveled abroad to many international festivals and had special screenings too –in Berlin (where the film premiered), Singapore, Bangkok, India, Washington DC…
The international audience reacted really well to the movie although there are differences in the cultural perception of a film: Europeans certainly appreciated the film more than Americans did. I think it’s a question of culture and sensibility. Also, people who are predisposed to certain Buddhist philosophy and views embraced the film far better than people who did not necessarily have that kind of background or knowledge.

What are the fundamental values promoted by Bhutanese culture?
Our values are very much driven by Buddhist philosophy. In everything we do, there’s a lot of emphasis on impermanence, karma –if you do something bad, it will come back to you. What you do today, it will maybe not come back today but it will come back to you sooner or later. It’s also about birth and rebirth. Family is very important too. It’s a very strong unit of society.
One thing about Bhutan is there’s very little criminality too. We do have crimes –like everywhere– but it’s not rampant and random, we never have mass shootings for instance.
Maybe the fact that we never were colonized plays a role: we never suffered from the historical damages that colonized countries struggle with –both politically and culturally. In that sense, we are lucky and blessed. Also it has a lot to do with our leadership. We are still a monarchy but we have become a parliamentary democracy in 2008. Until then, the way our kings designed the rules and ruled the country was very benevolent and thoughtful. For instance, every citizen in Bhutan has land. If you don’t, the King will give you one, you are entitled a land, so that technically noone is landless. Still, of course there is poverty. We don’t have beggars or people sleeping in the streets though. It’s a different definition of poverty: it’s defined by how rural you are. You can be cut out of everything, live in the mountains, in a shack. You don’t have shoes, you don’t have electricity or running water. That is poverty in Bhutan. But even if you live in those rural areas, you’d still get help from the government, say at least once every three months. Having said that, urban poverty is a growing phenomenon too these days because the cost of living keeps increasing. So you have to live in tiny apartments, sometimes sharing with 5 or 6 people. Still, it’s not as bad as in other neighbor countries…

How do you see what goes on in other countries? Is the outside world going crazy ?
Who am I to judge? But yes, the world is going through crazy times… [laughs] More seriously speaking, I think It’s about ego and ignorance. Ego of the leaders and ignorance of the followers. Ignorance because of the lack of education (although you can still reach leadership these days while ignorant!). So it’s a failure of institutions, it’s a failure of democracy. What is the right form of governance is obviously the million dollar question!
Actually in Bhutan, people didn’t want democracy. But the King wanted to introduce democracy. He was willing to give up his powers. His reasoning was: Bhutan is changing, we are entering in a new modern era, people are getting educated, we have a lot of interactions with the world. As much as democracy is imperfect, it should be the system for the future. He thought: I can speak for myself and for my son but I can not speak for future kings. It’s very dangerous to have absolute power in one hand. Who knows what can come next?
The reason why people in Bhutan didn’t want democracy is because it creates a lot of divisions in the society, families etc. When there is democracy, you have to take sides, you have to campaign and therefore point at what’s going wrong. It arouses conflicts and breaks harmony. Now we are getting used to it, with short-termism remaining the only concern though since every commitment/pledge/promise is based upon election stakes like in every democracy. We don’t have that in monarchies… So what’s crucial are the institutions, the checks and balances.

Interview by Françoise Duru

Interview with Claude Gérard (Espace Saint Michel, Paris, FR)


An independent arthouse movie theater with two screens since 1980, the Espace Saint Michel, in Paris, facing the famous Saint Michel fountain in the heart of the Latin Quarter, is run by the Gérard family across generations since 1912 –when Claude Gérard’s great-great uncle turned a popular restaurant into a cinema.
Claude Gérard is the current owner and director of the cinema
a fiery outspoken iconoclast who shares with us his mystical attraction for Asian cinema while standing up for an eclectic editorial line that puts emphasis on discovery and focuses on world cinema and political filmmakers.

Which was the most successful Asian film at Espace Saint Michel?
Following the 1988 arson attack that hit the cinema, we reopened in 1991 with the beautiful film DEATH OF A TEA MASTER (千利休 本覺坊遺文) by Kei Kumai a Japanese filmmaker unknown to the French public at the time. The film, however, hit 2,500 admissions in just one week! Today it would hardly reach 500 admissions. Quality films are rare and when they manage to be produced, they are lost in a flood of bad films. In an effort to trivialize and popularize cinema (with the help of digital technology), we are now overwhelmed by poor quality films… It’s a problem because people are getting disgusted with the mainstream film offer that leaves little space for smaller films they are no longer aware of.
At my father’s time, the arthouse market was not as segmented as it is today; there were only good films! In the Latin Quarter neighborhood, the Champo cinema stands out because it’s just next to La Sorbonne university and has become a cultural reference. They show 20 to 30 films per week, which is fine. But as far as I’m concerned it’s not how I want to show films because I’m interested in discovery.

What is the first Asian film you ever saw?
By the age of 7, I was very impressed by GATE OF HELL (地獄門) by Teinosuke Kinugasa (Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1954). There’s an incredible scene where the samurai spits on her beloved’s face to revive her! I reenacted the scene every summer at the beach! [Laughs]

Do you feel accountable for the way the audience of the cinema view Asia? Does that impact your programming choices?
Of course but it’s not just about Asian cinema. As I said before, quality films are what drives me. I do specifically have a liking for Asian cinema though from South Korea, Japan, Iran… I can’t really explain. I used to go to the 3 Continents Festival in Nantes, where I identified films that unfortunately wouldn’t always make it to French movie theaters because no distributors would acquire them. At the end of the day, my only responsibility is to show quality films and favour new talents from any part of the world. Not so long ago, I programmed for instance HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS (Munmo Tashi Khyidron) by Bhutanese director Dechen Roder.

Why were you specifically interested in that film?
Curiosity! Nowadays, everybody travels but everybody goes to the same places. It’s not curiosity, it’s mundanity. Curiosity is straying from the beaten tracks, it’s looking into seeing what others don’t.

GATE OF HELL aside, which Asian films struck you most?
I was very impressed by ONIBABA (鬼婆) by Kaneto Shindo as well as WOMAN IN THE DUNES (砂の女) by Hiroshi Teshigahara – I just find the direction, the images, outstanding. In fact, it’s impossible to describe. It’s better to watch the films, some things can’t be explained. I don’t like film reviews. Cinema is about sensibility, aesthetics, a perception of beauty. We tend to intellectualise when we grow up. But we must go to the movies with the sensibility, the innocence, of a child.

Interview by Françoise Duru and Pauline Kraatz

Technical specifications
Espace Saint Michel
7 place Saint Michel – 75005 Paris – France – T +33 (0)1 44 07 20 49 –
Art & Essai and Europa Cinemas labels
Exhibition formats: digital, 35mm, 4K
2 screens: 120 seats (screen width 7.20 m) and 90 seats (screen width 6.50 m)
Bar Les Affiches: open from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 18:00 to midnight
Asian film with the most cinema admissions: DEATH OF A TEA MASTER by Kei Kumai (12.425 admissions)


Born in 1945, Claude Gérard was steeped in cinema from an early age. The movie theater was founded by his great-great uncle, Victor Gandon, in 1912. Living in the neighborhood, Claude would never miss a film screened by the family cinema -then a single-screen theater with 450 seats (including orchestra and balcony) following the transformation works carried out in 1925 by his grand-father, Gaston Gérard.

Claude’s favorite seat is the orchestra front seat: he wants to feel immersed in the film and fill his visual field with the moving images. He keeps fond memories of his first cinematographic emotions like when he first saw THE INDIAN TOMB by Fritz Lang in 1959.

Later, while pursuing his studies at HEC Graduate Business School, he prepared the entrance exam for film school IDHEC (now called Fémis) at Nanterre University where he studied under Jean-Pierre Melville (who was shooting ARMY OF SHADOWS). It was a time where he would also cross on campus the paths of likes of “Dany le Rouge” (Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s nickname).
But the May 68 events put an end to his film studies as all exams got cancelled and he eventually gave up the idea of becoming a filmmaker. He then became his father’s assistant and slowly took over the cinema in 1991, which benefited by then from a second screen since 1980 (the balcony of the single-screen cinema had been replaced with a second screen).

As of 1970, the Espace Saint Michel was fully exposed to the intense competition of the Odeon cinemas (UGC with 9 screens and Parafrance with 5 screens), the multiplexes’ ancestors. While it was easy to book the films in the past, it had become a tough challenge. Negotiations with distributors would become fierce as theater programmers all wanted the same film or all rejected the same film. That’s maybe what made the Espace Saint Michel an alternative political space… In 1974, few movie theaters were willing to book BREAD AND CHOCOLATE by Franco Brusati, deemed « too communist ». In 1988, that spirit of freedom came under the fire of an extremist catholic cell that set ablaze the movie theater because they were angered with the programming of Martin Scorsese’s LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. The cinema will only reopen in 1991, with an additional space called « the club » dedicated to Q&As and special events.
In 2016, THANKS, BOSS! by François Ruffin was side-stepped by several movie theaters for political reasons but was welcomed with open arms by the Espace Saint Michel… Impertinence and activism has certainly remained the trademark of the programming at Espace Saint Michel.

Over the course of his forty-year career, Claude Gérard reckons that the public is what changed most: the viewers used to be young and curious, they are now older and overwhelmed by blockbusters and commercial films with questionable quality. Genuine cinephiles are rare, especially in this neighborhood crowded with tourists that used to be at the crossroads of two worlds – the 6th arrondissement middle-class and the grands boulevards working class. « In the 50s, we sold up to 11,000 tickets per week. In 2019, we celebrate over champagne when we sell just 1,000 tickets… » Claude Gérard laments… and simultaneously gets passionate: « Curiosity will come back, people will end up revolting against brainwashing. »

THE HALT by Lav Diaz


3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5 Halfway between a political drama, a science fiction film, a satire and a film noir, THE HALT navigates through these different genres with gusto and is assuredly Lav Diaz’s most accessible film! If you're not familiar with Lav Diaz's cinema, that's the film you should start with!)

In 2034, after massive volcanic eruptions in the Celebes Sea, the sun has permanently set, plunging Southeast Asia into darkness. Madmen control every country, city and enclave. Epidemics have ravaged the continent, leaving millions dead and forcing the survivors to flee.

Presented at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, THE HALT demonstrates once again the prolific creative energy of Filipino director Lav Diaz (SEASON OF THE DEVIL, THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, DEATH IN THE LAND OF ENCANTOS…) in the service of a political thought always on the move. Resorting to the codes of the genre film, he denounces abuses of power and questions individual action.

(Ang Hupa)
A film by Lav Diaz

With Piolo Pascual, Joel Lamangan, Shaina Magdayao
2019 – Philippines – Science fiction, Drama – 279 min – 1.85:1 – 5.1 Sound – Tagalog

Screenplay:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Mise en scène:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Interpretation:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

About the Philippines: a brief introduction


Surrounded by the Philippine Sea on its Eastern coast, the South China Sea on its western coast and bounded by the Celebes Sea on the south, the Philippine archipelago is more commonly situated in the Pacific Ocean. The Philippines consists of at least 7600 islands – 2,000 of them officially inhabited – covering a total area of about 300,439 km2 (or 120,000 sq mi). Many of those islands are actually islets, the eleven largest islands alone accounting for more than 95% of the surface area. In 2017, the total population was estimated at about 104 million. Today, the Philippines is separated into three archipelagos (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) and seventeen distinct regions, with relatively restricted autonomies. There is one exception: the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which, in the context of a prolonged religious and geopolitical crisis, possesses a specific status.

Originally made up of different populations originating from different immigration waves from the Asian continent, the Philippines is the only country in South East Asia that was colonized before even having the time to develop a centralized government or establish a dominant culture.

Not long after the arrival of a Spanish expedition led by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in the sixteenth century, the Philippines consisted of dispersed tribes, often polytheist, of Chinese settlements/communities, resulting from frequent commercial exchanges with the mainland, and of sultanates, under the influence of neighboring Indo-Malay maritime kingdoms, that had started to spreading Muslim precepts.

The arrival of the Spanish changed this situation through and through. The first permanent Spanish colony was established in Cebu in 1565. Manila was founded in 1571 and, by the end of the sixteenth century; almost all of the archipelago was under Spanish control. The priests had by then started converting the natives to Roman Catholicism. Were left the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, called “Moros” by the Spanish, who resisted and fought against this foreign domination. During this period, State and Church were the pillars of the Spanish administration, the objective being both commercial and cultural. In particular, the Spanish clergy set out to Christianize and hispanize the local peoples, banning native religious and cult practices.

The implemented agricultural policies and land laws reinforced class divides, enriching the aristocracy and new land owners to the detriment of the farmers.

The acceleration of unrestricted trade with Europe and the establishment of harbors open to international commerce saw the rise of a new wealthy social class, related to the Sino-Filipino merchant communities.

Around the 1880s, many of their children were sent to study in Europe. This led to a growing penchant for nationalism and reformism, materializing in the propaganda movement of Filipino students in Spain, led by a brilliant student, José Rizal, the author of two exemplary political books – Noli me tangere (1886) and El Filibusterismo (1891) – which have had a tremendous impact back in the Philippines. Once he returned, he founded on July 3, 1892, the Filipino league, an organization that sought to promote liberal and reformist ideas. He was rapidly arrested, made to appear in front of a bogus court and was eventually executed on December 30, 1896, at only 35 years of age. He instantly became a martyr and his death bolstered the resistance.

Inspired by Rizal’s writings and shocked by his arrest, Andres Bonifacio advocated for a general insurrection through the Katipunan, a secret society created to free the country from its Spanish colonizers.

The reasons that led to the split of the Katipunan in two rival factions have been the object of many diverging/contradictory theories. What is certain is that this divide placed the Magdiwang group (led by Bonifacio) in opposition to the Magdalo group (which wanted to place Emilio Aguinaldo at the head of the movement). Meanwhile, the Spanish troops progressed rapidly.

On March 22, 1897, a reunion – known under the name of “Tejeros convention” – was called at Cavite to solve the issue of the political direction of the revolution. Once again controversy permeated the discussions, at the end of which were born two opposing revolutionary governments: one controlled by Aguinaldo, the other by Bonifacio. The rivalry between the two men reached a climax when Bonifacio was imprisoned by Aguinaldo’s soldiers and, after having been found guilty of treason, was executed on May 10, 1897 in the mountains of Maragondon.

Many discouraged partisans abandoned the cause and gave up armed struggle. On December 14 and 15, 1897, the rebel troops of Aguinaldo surrendered and the Biak-na-Bato pact was signed: Aguinaldo obtained amnesty for all of the Katipunan’s members but the leaders were forced in exile to Hong Kong (an exile that was financially compensated…).

The explosion and sinking of an American warship in Havana in February 1898, during a Cuban revolution, contributed to the United States declaring war to Spain two months later, which in turn favoured the return of Aguinaldo and reinforced the Filipino rebellion. The Spanish were forced to sell their colony to the United States for 20 million dollars and leave the country, after signing the Paris Treaty on December 10, 1898.

Aguinaldo had in the meantime declared the country’s independence, on June 12, 1898, at Cavite. This was the establishing act of the first Philippine republic, the first democratic constitution of the Asian continent, after 327 years of Spanish domination. It became clear however that the Americans had no intentions to leave or grant autonomy to the Filipino people. On February 4, 1899, war was declared between the two. This rebellion was hastily crushed by the Americans in 1902, following Aguinaldo’s capture. The Americans ruled the country until the Japanese invasion of 1942. The Allies won back the islands in 1945 and the United States administered the country until its independence, appropriately proclaimed on July 4,1946.

Under American influence, the English language exceeded the local dialects and the political organization was modeled on the American system. Land ownership remained very unfair, favoring the richer, more politically connected parts of society, all the while serving American economic interest.

Originally made up of different populations originating from different immigration waves from the Asian continent, the Philippines is the only country in South East Asia that was colonized before even having the time to develop a centralized government or establish a dominant culture.

In November of 1965, Ferdinand E. Marcos was elected president. His administration was confronted to serious economic problems, exacerbating issues of corruption, fiscal evasion and smuggling. Facing the increasing importance of demonstrations – notably led by students – that demanded more transparency and the transformation of institutions, Marcos declared martial law in 1972 – officially, a drastic measure seeking to put an end to the alleged threats of the new Communist party and the separatist Muslim movement, but, in realty, a means to modify the institutions and assure the longevity of his mandate. One of the first measures taken was the arrest of his political opponents. In the South of the country, the separatist rebellion became more and more galvanized to act.

Under Martial law, urban crimes plummeted, unregistered weapons were confiscated but the political and economic hold of Marcos and his associated on the country was consolidated, against a backdrop of widespread corruption and contempt for the collective interest.

In 1986, Corazon C. Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino, one of Marcos’ political rivals who had been assassinated in 1983, became president, helped by the popular feeling of incrimination towards Marcos. She re-established a form of bicameral government as it had existed before the martial law. However, the external debt soared, the country’s economy remained in a dire stare and the menace of Moro and communist uprisings was still very real. The Aquino government was also confronted to internal dissension, repeated coup attempts and natural disasters. At the beginning of the 90s, criticism of weak leadership, corruption and human rights abuses were on the rise. In 1992, Aquino renounced to present herself as a candidate for a second term.

Following this, several presidents – all originating from the elite and important families – succeeded one another, without ever managing to put a term to inequalities or to accusations of corruption, while the conflicts with the separatists in Mindanao carried on (amounting to over 120,000 victims and about 2 million displaced over the course of 40 years). In November 2013, the Haiyan typhoon, one of the most violent ever felt – struck the country.

On May 9, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte, the long-time ruling mayor of Davao was elected president, despite (or thanks to?) his populist rhetoric, making a vow to execute 100,000 criminals. During his inauguration in June, the unlawful killings of suspected drug trafficking criminals leaped, without any trial in sight.

In May 2017, Duterte declared martial law on the island of Mindanao to circumvent the islamist and communist rebellions. Initially decreed for 60 days, the parliamentarians validated its extension at his request. This exceptional regime is an extremely sensitive matter in the Philippines, as it recalls the dark times of Marcos’ dictatorship.

Duterte, who has rehabilitated Marcos by authorizing his burial at the national heroes’ cemetery, had threatened to extend the martial law to the entire country if the islamist threat were to export itself to other regions.

Human rights organizations, which have repeatedly denounced the president’s aggressive campaign against drugs, accuse him of endangering the Filipino democracy, three decades after the revolution that drove Marcos out of power.

Tonglao S. Epinal

Tonglao S. Epinal is a photographer and a video artist. She collaborated with many specialized magazines as a freelance writer and frequently travels to South East Asia for her works and research. She is currently developing a documentary feature about the heritage of Soviet cinema and the paradox of censorship in the development of Asian arthouse cinema from 1956 to 1986.

MANTA RAY by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng


3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5 The hallucinatory and aesthetic qualities of the film, although hypnotizing, produce an abstract rather than poignant narrative. Willingly embarked on this sensitive and enigmatic dream, which unfolds by means of impressionist touches, we tend to lose sight of the Rohingyas’ very real, nightmarish plight…)

Near a coastal village of Thailand, by the sea where thousands of Rohingya refugees have drowned, a local fisherman finds an injured man lying unconscious in the forest. He rescues the stranger, who does not speak a word, offers him his friendship and names him Thongchai. But when the fisherman suddenly disappears at sea, Thongchai slowly begins to take over his friend’s life – his house, his job and his ex-wife…

Winner of the Grand Prize in the Orizzonti section of the 2018 Venice Film Festival, MANTAY RAY, Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s first feature, calls forth the shattered destiny of the Rohingyas through a mute character, symbol of this silenced and abandoned community. Never overtly mentioned, we can nonetheless hear the whisper of their voices accompanying the sound effects created by Snowdrop, a French electronic duo.

(กระเบนราหู, Kraben Rahu)
A film by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
With Wanlop Rungkumjad, Aphisit Hama, Rasmee Wayrana
2018 – Thailand– Drama – 105 min – 1.85 : 1  – Sound 5.1 – Thai

Screenplay:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
Mise en scène:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
Interpretation:2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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