×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Storm Children, Book One’

Lav Diaz's magnificent compositions frame children at work and at play amid the utter devastation left in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

In Lav Diaz’s two-and-a-half-hour documentary “Storm Children, Book One” — as in his nine-hour 2008 narrative, “Death in the Land of Encantos” — the Filipino helmer’s signature arresting, black-and-white compositions focus on the utter devastation left in the wake of a catastrophic typhoon. But if “Encantos” featured grownups mourning a buried past, the pint-size subjects of “Storm Children” exist entirely in the present, scavenging the past for survival. Resilient and completely absorbed in work and play (the distinction often difficult to discern), the kids belie the surrounding desolation with their ceaseless activity, while resisting any facile inspirational uplift. This slow but striking documentary reps prime museum and fest fare.

Shot many months after the destruction wrought by cataclysmic Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda), the deadliest in the Philippines’ typhoon-swept history, the film is structured as a series of tableaux; Diaz’s generally fixed camera sometimes subtly shifts to catch the minimal action from slightly different angles.

As cars, buses and motorcycles move through the flooded streets of Tacloban like some surreal aquacade, two boys with long branches fish from a swollen stream, but they only catch a ball, assorted flotsam and some stray scraps of clothing. Two youngsters industriously dig beneath the corrugated roofs of completely buried houses, most of their finds corroded or decomposed beyond any conceivable utility.

A huge ship, blown ashore like a beached whale, lies amid the wreckage of the homes and businesses crushed by its passage, like some bizarre Leviathan looming over the flattened land. Kids, on improvised ferries, pole their way out to stranded ships to dive from various decks, jumping off for fun — or, as one child explains in a rare stretch of dialogue, to search for metal to sell as scrap, a major source of income.

A succession of small fry struggle manfully to fill and carry containers of water almost as big as and doubtless heavier than they are. They stop occasionally to rest as if propelled downward by the sheer weight, or otherwise to castigate their elders for lazing around instead of helping.

The abstract minimalism and ponderous stasis of Diaz’s camerawork, coupled with the desolate absence of anything remotely resembling the everyday goings-on of a good-size city, gives “Storm Children, Book One” a strangely timeless feel that complements its stark beauty.  If the film were focused on the grownups — who, to judge from their stagnation or lack of presence in the frame, have given up completely — the debris-strewn landscape of a once-thriving city would spell hopelessness, with children wandering the wreckage of a lost civilization. But their energy, camaraderie and flashes of joy hint at a dogged survivalism and purposefulness that mirrors Diaz’s own passionate commitment to his benighted county.

Film Review: 'Storm Children, Book One'

Reviewed at Documentary Fortnight, Feb. 16, 2015, Museum of Modern Art, New York. (Also in Rotterdam Film Festival.) Running time: 143 MIN. (Original title: “Mga anak ng unos unang aklat”)

Production: (Documentary — Philippines) A Sine Olivia Filipinas production with the support of DMZ Docs.  (International sales: Sine Olivia Filipinas, Marikina City, Philippines.) Produced by Lav Diaz.

Crew: Directed by Lav Diaz. Camera (B&W, HD), Diaz; editor, Haring Timog; sound designer, Hazel Orencio; associate producers, Gil Duito, Troi Santos.

More Film

  • Of Fathers and Sons

    Producer of Oscar-Nommed Syria Documentary Could Miss Awards Due to Visa Problem

    A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, look likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions and increased bureaucracy. Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist [...]

  • Speaker of the United States House

    Nancy Pelosi, Ava DuVernay Honored at VH1 Trailblazers Event

    Cher is feeling a little better about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. “When I see Trump spew his hate and tell his gazillion lies, I get pissed off and feel uneasy at the same time,” the Oscar winner and frequent Trump critic said on Wednesday while introducing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at “VH1 [...]

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content