Diaz shows rock opera in Berlin

“ANG Panahon ng Halimaw,” internationally known as “Season of the Devil,” is being showcased at the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale), which is ongoing until Sunday.

The politically charged musical has since received some positive feedback from The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian and Variety. But the publications also made it clear that Lav Diaz is not going to win a Grammy anytime soon.

“Season of the Devil,” set during the Martial Law era in the Philippines, is a political movie. And Diaz didn’t mince words when talking about the political climate in the Philippines and in other parts of the world.

“We have parallel histories and parallel struggles,” said Diaz during the film’s press conference. He was talking about the political climate in the Philippines and the country’s longtime ally, the US. “All cultures have the same struggles. We struggle with fascism and barbarism. Why do we still have (Philippine President Rodrigo) Duterte and (US President Donald) Trump and all those motherf***ers?”

His statement was met with laughter from the media.

Actress Pinky Amador also lauded her fellow cast members for doing a political drama: “All the actors here really took a risk in doing this film because we are really living in a time of the devil.”

The film stars rumored lovers Piolo Pascual and Shaina Magdayao, Amador and Bituin Escalante.

“His cast delivers deft performances of his numbers, too, from the heroes’ pitch-perfect turns to the villains’ deliberately blunted delivery of their ominous melodies. But it’s visually that ‘Season of the Devil’ ranks among Diaz’s best work,” The Hollywood Reporter’s review read.

“Distorting the view with chiaroscuro lighting and wide-lens camerawork, the filmmaker and director of photography Larry Manda also persist in using diagonal shots, with characters and their relationship with their setting frequently thrown out of joint. There’s no way one could sit back and marvel comfortably at what ‘Season of the Devil’ offers ─ and perhaps that’s exactly Diaz’s point.”

Self-billed as a “rock opera,” Variety preferred calling the project “Lav Lav Land,” in reference to the Hollywood musical “La La Land.” Diaz composed all 33 of the film’s songs and closing credits.

Variety, though, said that Diaz will not be giving Lin-Manuel Miranda sleepless nights, which was not necessarily an outright criticism of Diaz’s musical talent.

“Diaz’s songwriting style is bluntly declarative and deliberately anti-melodic, mostly working in one of two registers: impassioned lamentations by the oppressed and ironic, rancorous back-and-forth duets between the soldiers and their victims, the latter always culminating in a faux-naive ‘la la la’ refrain that becomes the film’s cruelest leitmotif,” wrote Variety.

But the magazine did have some positive comments on Escalante’s musical performance: “There are some raw, stirring interludes here, many delivered by Escalante (a million miles musically from her experience as Effie White in the Filipino production of “Dreamgirls”), but the film’s sheer mass of similar material rather reduces their impact.”

Variety, which was not at all sold on the film, still admits that Diaz is his own artist and does not cave to the commercial demands of the time.

Producer Bianca Balbuena admitted that it was hard to find funding for Diaz’s film because of the political undertones and the usual lack of commercial viability.

Balbuena lamented that while Diaz, now a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has a large following in Europe, the people who need to watch his films are the Filipinos.

The Guardian, for its part, noted the intricacies of the film and patted Diaz on the back for it: “‘Season of the Devil’ is the work of a real auteur: every millisecond of his film has been rigorously created. There are moments of dreamlike intensity and the despair of the period is genuinely conveyed.”

Diaz said he originally wanted to make a gangster film. And then he decided on a musical. He married the two and got his rock opera.
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