Eight-hour Berlin film focuses on Philippines revolution

BERLIN (Reuters) - Filipino director Lav Diaz says movies should not be judged by their length, so he gave the Berlin Film Festival a historical drama about the Philippines that runs more than eight hours.

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“Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis” (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) was shown in competition for the festival’s top Golden Bear prize in a screening that started at 9:30 a.m. and ended shortly before 7 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break.

The film is similar to the duration of some other past festival favourites like Hungarian director Bela Tarr, whose “Satantango” clocks in at about seven hours.

But at a post-screening news conference Diaz rejected being labelled as a creator of “slow cinema”.

“We’re labeled ‘the slow cinema’ but it’s not slow cinema, it’s cinema,” he said.

“I don’t know why ... every time we discourse on cinema we always focus on the length.

“It’s cinema, it’s just like poetry, just like music, just like painting where it’s free, whether it’s a small canvas or it’s a big canvas, it’s the same ... So cinema shouldn’t be imposed on.”

Diaz’s movie is set in the late 19th century at the period of the Philippine revolution against Spanish rule and focuses on the influence of Andres Bonifacio y de Castro, considered to be one of the main motivators of the uprising.

The film follows the lives of several groups of people, including Castro’s wife who is searching for his body on a mountain that is inhabited by people from the spirit world.

It also follows the lives of several young men who get caught up in the revolution, including the poet Isagani (John Lloyd Cruz), who is so overwhelmed by the bloodshed that he loses faith in his ability to write poems.

Producer Bianca Balbuena praised the Berlinale for allowing the film to be shown in competition for the main prize despite its length.

“The Berlinale gave us the freedom, they didn’t ask us to cut down the length of the film,” she said, adding: “Thank you, Berlin.”

The film is among 19 competing for the top Golden Bear prize to be awarded on Saturday.

Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Andrew Heavens