Cast: Bart Guingona, DMs Boongaling, Hazel Orencio, Nanding Josef
Best Director, Orrizonti, 2020 Venice Film Festival
Spirits are said to roam the dense tropical forest terrain of Hugaw Island, an impoverished Fillipino enclave whose citizenry believes deeply in the legends and curses of old. But in Lav Diaz’s scathing new allegory Genus Pan, local superstition and supernatural torment are revealed to be just another tool for controlling the masses. Spanish and Japanese colonizers once weaponized such fear-mongering tactics to gain a powerful stranglehold over the collective, and their modern incarnations (corrupt civil servants, murderous thieves, Duterte stand-ins) have only perfected these misinformation campaigns further.
Diaz’s latest clocks in at a brisk (for him anyway) 157 minutes, nearly every one of which features a static camera watching three local miners as they travel back to their rural island community after spending months working abroad. Trekking through thick, mystical foliage, each step brings these men closer to an inevitable confrontation with personal ghosts, but also the larger historical traumas permeating doubt and cruelty through their small village community.
In this modern-day purgatory, Diaz (Norte, the End of History, SDAFF ‘13; From What is Before, SDAFF ‘14) depicts a swirl of competing philosophies (Catholicism, greed, indiginous myths, fascism) eroding at the very fabric of emotional connection and trust that make us human in the first place. It is a purposefully bleak and rewarding exploration of moral rot, beautifully shot in stark black-and-white to amplify the contrasting shades between shifting natural light and our own self-destructive impulses.
–Glenn Heath Jr.