can tell Haiti has a better lobbying arm than the Philippines. Five years after
the 2010 earthquake, international aid is still flowing into the island nation,
while filmmaker and former Culture Minister Raoul Peck wonders where all that
money is going. In contrast, Typhoon Yolanda barely cracked the news cycle in
late 2013. As a result, there has been precious little rebuilding in coastal
communities like Tacloban. Three children will guide auteur Lav Diaz through
the watery streets and dilapidated slums of their post-typhoon world in Storm Children, Book One, which screens
during MoMA’s 2015 Documentary Fortnight.
only Diaz could make images of privation and hopelessness so arrestingly
beautiful. Arguably, Storm Children might
easily play in a loop as an installation or to accompany a fund-raising soiree
for typhoon relief. His characteristic long takes are as long as ever. As a
result, it takes a bit of time (perhaps an hour) before we start to recognizing
the recurring focal figures Diaz ostensibly follows. However, the neighborhood’s
three-legged stray dog will start to look familiar somewhat sooner.
could still get elected mayor of Slow Cinema City, but at just under two and a
half hours, Storm Children is a
veritable short subject by his standards. It is not until late in the film that
Diaz starts to ask questions of the kids, in a traditional documentary kind of
way. Sadly, they will confirm many of our worst suspicions, such as why there seem
to be so little adult supervision in their world.
question, Diaz has an eye for visuals, but the spectacle of the huge rusted-out
freighters beached throughout the Tacloban coastline and amid the ruined
smithereens of their tightly packed houses is hard to miss. It looks like a
post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies,
except the atmosphere is remarkably quiet and still.
At times, Diaz’s visuals are so striking, we can
understand why he holds them so long. Serving as his own cinematographer,
supplemented by his son Sultan, Diaz demonstrates how artful documentary filmmaking
can be. Nevertheless, at some point quietly observing these children orphaned and
essentially rendered destitute by Yolanda becomes increasingly problematic over
time (and there is always a lot of time to think in a Lav Diaz movie). There
can be a thin line between conscious-raising and exploitation—and it is not
always clear which side the film is on. Powerful, demanding, yet sometimes
discomfiting in the wrong way, Storm
Children still must be considered a major work from a prestige filmmaker.
Recommended for those who appreciate slow cinema flavored with a guilt trip, Storm Children, Book One screens
tomorrow (2/14, perfect for Valentine’s Day) and Monday (2/16) at MoMA, as part
of this year’s Documentary Fortnight.
Labels: Documentary, Documentary Fortnight '15, Filipino Cinema, Lav Diaz