×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Century of Birthing

Filipino maestro Lav Diaz continues to push, prod and reinvent his personal yet universal cinema with "Century of Birthing."

With:
With: Angel Aquino, Perry Dizon, Joel Torre, Hazel Orencio, Angeli Bayani, Betty Uy-Regala, Roeder Camanag. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

Filipino maestro Lav Diaz continues to push, prod and reinvent his personal yet universal cinema with “Century of Birthing.” A relatively short film for Diaz at two minutes shy of six hours, this saga follows the parallel stories of a procrastinating filmmaker artist (Perry Dizon) and a woman in a quasi-Christian cult (Angel Aquino), serving up ideas on matters of belief, creation and freedom that ultimately skew in a more hopeful direction than some of the helmer’s recent epics. Brave fests will sign up.

What sets “Century of Birthing” apart from Diaz’s other films about the Filipino national consciousness is how he incorporates his impending feature “Woman of Wind” into the narrative. In the context of this fiction, that film is the work of Homer (Dizon), shown editing the low-res video images on his computer.

Crucially, however, Homer isn’t meant to be seen as Diaz’s doppelganger, and easy comparisons with Fellini’s alter ego Guido in “8 1/2” would be simplistic and wrong-headed. There are two obvious differences: Homer appears to have never had, and never will have, a feature in the Venice and Toronto film festivals, where “Century of Birthing” launched its international fest circuit travels; and Homer can’t seem to finish what he starts, the polar opposite of the highly productive and prolific Diaz.

Homer is befriended and somewhat hounded by a female poet friend (Betty Uy-Regala), whose pretentiousness makes Homer’s stated belief in the power of cinema sound comparatively modest. As he sweats over “Woman of Wind,” “Birthing” also focuses on Sister Angela (Aquino), one of a tight circle of women around cult leader Father Tiburcio (Joel Torre). Diaz films their various religious rites, one of which provides the pic’s opening scene, without irony or intended ridicule; while Father Tiburcio turns out to be a vain madman and harsh autocrat, the pic observes the group with a striking neutrality that allows viewers to arrive at their own conclusions.

More pointedly, a nosey photographer (Roeder Camanag) has weaseled his way onto the cult’s property (this is far from Waco, Texas, and there’s nary a guard or gun in sight), and the film uses him to ask uncomfortable questions about the use of the camera to depict human beings, and how close the observer can rightfully get to the observed. More than in any previous Diaz film, the presence of the camera becomes a rather dark symbol of the uses and abuses of cinema, as does Homer’s editing suite.

Ever so gradually, these opposite worlds eventually intersect in a surprising and satisfying denouement set in the countryside under an enormous sky. Once Homer decides to get away from his rather shoddy studio, and encounters some characters outside of the city, the film shifts to large tableaux and time-bending sequences that turn the characters into mythic characters a la Diaz’s “Death in the Land of Encantos.”

The DCP projection in Toronto was marred by an especially raw, fairly unmixed soundtrack, with much intrusive outside and ambient sound muddying the audio; filmmakers noted this will be rectified in future screenings. Diaz’s black-and-white lensing is well composed, with his signature wide-angle long shots firmly intact; while nothing in Diaz’s movies ever moves terribly fast, the individual shots here are generally more briefly held than those in his previous work. Unconfirmed reports circulated in Toronto that Diaz is planning an eight-hour version, though the narrative seems quite complete and fully rounded at nearly six.

Century of Birthing

Philippines

Production: A Sine Olivia Pilipinas presentation. Produced by Lav Diaz, Ricky Gallardo. Directed, written, edited by Lav Diaz.

Crew: Camera (B&W, DV), Diaz; music, Diaz; production designer, Perry Dizon, Hazel Orencio, Dante Perez; sound (stereo), Diaz. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Visions), Sept. 15, 2011. (Also in Venice Film Festival -- Horizons.) Running time: 358 MIN.

Cast: With: Angel Aquino, Perry Dizon, Joel Torre, Hazel Orencio, Angeli Bayani, Betty Uy-Regala, Roeder Camanag. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Dylan O'Brien, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett,

    Travis Knight on Getting the Call to Direct ‘Bumblebee’: ‘Did You Guys Get The Right Number?’

    “Bumblebee” director Travis Knight admits he couldn’t believe it when Paramount Studios and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called him two years ago, asking him to helm the upcoming “Transformers” movie. “My initial question was, ‘Did you guys get the right number?'” Knight joked at Sunday’s premiere of “Bumblebee” at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “You’ve seen [...]

  • Director Peter JacksonWarner Bros. Pictures THEY

    Peter Jackson Talks Transition From 'Hobbit' Movies to World War I Documentary

    Peter Jackson remains a bit astounded at his transition four years ago from the Shire of Middle Earth to the French battlefields of World War I. Jackson introduced his documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” Friday night at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, four weeks after it aired on Armistice Day on the BBC. [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • Children's Defense Fund

    Angela Bassett, Conan O'Brien Honor Young Students at Children's Defense Fund Gala

    Awards season may be right around the corner, but on Thursday, Hollywood took a break from the glitz and glam to celebrate five high school students who have excelled academically despite facing extreme adversity both at home and in the classroom. The 29th annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center featured [...]

  • Dolly Parton attends the world premiere

    Dolly Parton Hopes to Perform 'Dumplin'' Song at the Golden Globes

    It’s not easy to upstage Jennifer Aniston. But everyone at Thursday night’s premiere of her new Netflix flick, “Dumplin’,” seemed to be singing the praises of Dolly Parton, who earlier in the day received a Golden Globe nomination for “Girl in the Movies,” one of half a dozen new songs she wrote for the film. [...]

  • Lena WaitheVariety's Power of Women, Arrivals,

    Who Lena Waithe Thinks Should Replace Kevin Hart as Oscar Host

    Lena Waithe thinks Kevin Hart could have handled his Oscar debacle in a much better way. “I kind of wish that he would have taken a moment to let it be a teachable moment and to say, ‘Hey, what I said wasn’t right and I want to make that right,’ not just to keep the [...]

  • Christie Brinkley32nd Annual Footwear News Achievement

    Christie Brinkley at 64: 'Women My Age Cannot Allow the Numbers to Define Them'

    Christie Brinkley may be turning 65 next year, but don’t you dare try to tell her what she should — or shouldn’t — wear. “I think women my age cannot allow the numbers to define them. We need to constantly redefine the number,” Brinkley told Variety on Tuesday at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in New [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content