A miniaturist critique of colonialism told in the style of stiff, studio-bound '30s melodramas.

A miniaturist critique of colonialism told in the approximated style of stiff, studio-bound ’30s melodramas, “Independencia” is of interest strictly for its modest formal elements. Shot in black-and-white in the old 1:33 aspect ratio, with painted backdrops evoking the jungle setting, prolific young Filipino helmer Raya Martin’s work here physically resembles that of Guy Maddin, sans the wit and impudence. Stylistically, this airless pic is miles apart from Martin’s five-hour 2008 opus “Now Showing,” as well as from his other (co-helmed) Cannes entry this year, “Manila.” The director’s growing profile and the pic’s unusual nature assure a busy fest future.

Like Josef von Sternberg’s final film, “The Saga of Anatahan,” “Independence” confines its few errant characters to a claustrophobic world of tropical artifice. Here, a mother, son and, eventually, a younger woman and a child elude the colonizing Americans in early 20th-century Philippines while living in a mountain shack until outside forces inevitably catch up with them, to predictably tragic ends. Self-consciously archaic style engages the eye but can’t alleviate the labored nature of the drama. Sound mix marked by heavy weather and jungle wildlife is intense.

Independence

Philippines - France - Germany - Netherlands

Production

A Cinematografica ADDED: (Philippines)//, Atopic, ArteFrance Cinema ADDED: (France)//, Razor Film ADDED: (Germany) // and Volya Films ADDED: (Netherlands)// production. (International sales: Memento Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Arleen Cuevas. Directed by Raya Martin. Screenplay, Ramon Sarmiento, Martin.

Crew

Camera (B&W), Jeanne Lapoirie; editor, Jay Halili; music, Lutgardo Labad; production designer, Digo Ricio. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 19, 2009. Original title: Independencia. Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Tetchie Agbayani, Sid Lucero, Alessandra de Rossi, Mika Aguilos.
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