Thoughts on “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” (possibly the longest film I had ever watched and will ever watch)

Last Sunday (March 27, 2016) I had the liberty, chance or privilege to watch this film that tests its audience endurance – what with the 485 minute running time. The film is about Gregoria de Jesus’s search for Andres Bonifacio’s body and about the travel of Simoun and Isagani after the failed attempt of bombing the wedding of Paulita Gomez and Juanito Pelaez.

Mini-personal background

Okay, so first things first. I first (and that’s a lot of firsts) heard of this movie on Ely Buendia’s IG post which only shows the title: Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis and its translation in english: A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery. And I am a sucker to whimsical titles so this caught my attention. I found myself having this mute hope to watch this however, I know I am not going to because this will only be shown internationally. And then, I think I read it also in the news that it has the longest running time of 8 hours and 5 minutes. There.

I thought that was the end of story. And then, last Monday, my older sister informed me that they were planning to watch “Hele” at SM Fairview. (Yes, it will have a commercial release here) It is not yet available in Sureseats and we’re not yet sure if this will be available weeks after so we already grabbed that chance and bought it online.

Then Saturday happened and all we’re seeing is that the price is ranging from 400 – 500 Php and not to mention that it is already available in sureseats! And here goes my dilemma because I only bought the ticket for Php 200. I’m already thinking if my purchase was valid or not. And then after gazillion of failed calls to the hotline and exchanges of emails – it was confirmed that the purchase was valid and that the price is like that because I bought the advance selling tickets which is cheaper than the regular tickets. Case solved.

But late that night, I was contemplating, I was feeling rather guilty because I am going to watch an eight-hour-film on the cost of Php200. And here I thought the best use of my Php150 is to use it to watch a cinemalaya film, but no, I think the best use of Php200 is here. I even remember me telling myself before: kulang ata un binayad ko nung nanood ako ng Heneral Luna sa sobrang ganda nun.

And then before showing, we bought coffee (because I know we’re gonna be sleepy with the very long unusual running and I suggest this to all who are going to try to watch this.

On its first impression

Good thing that I never bother to look up the synopsis of this film or what this is about – I never had any expectations. But, I was taken aback when I saw that it is on black and white, like noir black and white.

Initial impression (I was not really in-depth into cinematics and what-nots), I thought it was boring. First impression do not lasts for me anyway. But the as the movie progressed, I felt curious about the setup – why do we need to watch this in black and white? There must be a reason! I need to find and answer, or at least something close to that.

And then what captivates me next is the smokes swirling in the background – it made the black and white look interesting. And moving. There is something there that I can’t quite put my finger into – but I know the smokes have a subtle elegance into it.

On the editing

The film is shot in one frames. There. Sorry I spoiled the film for you.

But this is the film’s advantage and disadvantage. How I like the paradox.

One-frame-scenes may seem boring, because we’re all so used to the camera zooming in, zooming out, panning from left to right and vice versa and the epic slow motion. I am so so used to this thanks to all the korean series that I’ve watched with overuse of its zooming capabilities. So, the one-frame-scenes may seem boring, like, am I really watching a film? or is this some kind of a trick that I can’t get out of? Surely, this film might  have cut and pasted scenes in there right? Wrong! The film is pure one frames-in all its one shot glory- it makes you think that you’ve travelled back in time – and that I am somehow in the same room as Isagani, or Simoun, or Gregoria de Jesus.

And I guess that makes it its advantage. We get to see and feel just like what our characters is feeling being on that same room with them. It may seem discouraging at first and boring but really – how can you think it is boring when all of them – the cast and crew – worked so hard to achieve this arduous feat? I am just thinking how it must’ve been for them – on the back of the camera – to do this? It’s not like they all did this in one take right?

And that’s the beauty of it. The awesomeness of thinking that people were capable of doing this formidable task.

Notable scenes

(1) Simoun and Capitan Heneral

Because we already talked about the one-frame-scenes – one of the notable scenes of the film is the talk with Simoun and Capitan Heneral. Mind you, it was very long and I didn’t know Piolo can sustain and endure that long take. And I guess, I put my hats off to both of these actors – because they seem so immersed in that scene that I can’t hardly believe it.

Like what Piolo said, the script is like a poetry and changing something, even a little bit, is like doing an injustice to the script – and I admired him for that. This is the scene where the  struggles of Simoun is revealed. It feels like they are really two old people talking about their hits and misses in life and how the imminent doom is upon them and somehow, they can only delay it by talking.

(2) Basilio finding the grave of Sisa

I didn’t mean to be bias, but what the heck, I will just admit it – yes! I am biased when it comes to Sisa, Basilio and Juli’s arc in the Noli – El Fili series. Which brings me into why I am rooting for this scene. I don’t even remember the ending of El Fili but according to the film, Simoun’s final task to Basilio is to dig the forgotten riches of Elias under the balete tree.

And my heart goes to Basilio because like him, I also dreamt of a happy future with Juli – but then in a blink of an eye – all is lost and you can’t help but be smoldered up in hate because one person – whom you’ve trusted – just played your life. But what I can never understand is why Basilio heeded Simoun’s words? Why would he dig it up? I guess maybe to help (Oh no! I can’t get my facts straight –  I need to reread El Fili and Noli) other people? Maybe there were those times when we’re lost and we just do what we’re told to do because there is an internal struggle in us that we want to do something – but we can’t just do anything – because we might hurt someone – and maybe if what we want to do came from others – there is a lesser chance of hurting someone. There. I don’t know where did that came out. But senseless as it is – it was a poignant scene, when finally Basilio realised and saw the grave of his beloved mother, Sisa. (And here goes my flood of tears)

Sid Lucero may seem crazy in here and the dragging scene of his digging and resting and digging and resting and digging and resting and hiding and digging again and resting again and changing places makes you wonder, isn’t he already tired? But no. He continued. And in here its like he’s back again from the beginning. Believe me, this is only my thoughts from my own perspective – but Basilio is again back from the start. From when he first experienced loss and death of his family, future, Ibarra came and gave him future but now, when all of his dreams ended, he’s back again to Sisa’s grave. The scene is hurtful and fitting that it doesn’t have a background music. The highest form of sorrow – alas – are those that we cannot hear, those that find it so hard to gather strength in making a sound because how can you have the strength to make a sound when sorrow abides in your every being?

(3) Isagani asking Padre Florentino on why?

I guess we can all relate. Once upon a time – Simoun held that area on his hands. He played and played and in the end lost. And then that area is again held by another’s hands. Haven’t we already had enough of this? The questions seeping into Isagani’s thoughts on why. And forgive my memory but I would really really want to replay that scene. (same sentiments with Paul Soriano) You could just ask yourself – and it is the same with Heneral Luna – if those questions are already asked before, why are we still asking the same question until now? Why the heck are we still in the same position as we were – when Rizal died? Why have we not moved one bit? Have we not learned anything? It makes you wonder and feel that same love for our country that Isagani has, that Rizal has, that every person that walked on the Philippines before us has.

(3.5) Ending scene of Simoun in the balsa

And I guess Simoun is one of the victims of the system. He started out ideally but then he became the perpetrator in the end. But then you still cannot discount the love of country that he has even with causing chaos.

Last thoughts

Why eight hours, you may ask? I guess, sometimes we don’t need limits. To quote Dicta License: “Tulad ng awit the pumipiglas sa kahon ng kundiman..” We struggle to be free from what the society deem as normal.

Eight hours so that we can think deeply – because these times, all we have is instant and fast, fast internet connection, fast replies to emails, fast food, even the videos on instagram last only for 15 seconds – but eight hours is long but short. This film immerses you in the scene – how the people feel and what they want to do about it. It is a better way of not only depicting but making you feel something.

I may not have fully grasped what Lav Diaz wants to say in this film but it is a collaborative work of many people and to see the film in all of their viewpoints might make me crazy maybe. So here I go – typing how the movie touched my heart and taught me that there are no limits in what you can do.

Just a thought: maybe eight hours because Filipinos have a short attention span. Heck, even the Maguindanao massacre is forgotten now. Even the demise of a hundred of people during martial law. We have not dwelled enough on the problems of society – that’s why we can move on easily. Good and bad thing. We can move on easily but we did not suffer enough to prevent all of this to happen again. Maybe that’s why the Philippines is going on in circles. There might be tikbalangs disrupting our growth, our progress, but we must be the one to break the tikbalang’s spell.

I like these kinds of films. It might be tiring. But I like that it makes me think.


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