A multitude of faults hinder the art-form to serve its purpose, which, in film’s case, is to enamor, to engage and to empathize. I intend not to bring limitations on what film does as an art; I intend rather to exalt its glory and its mystique. Film in fact does many things, exceeding my first three examples, and a list of those only goes an absurd length. It mystifies and demystifies, asks and answers (so on); “Lihis,” directed by Joel Lamangan, is one film that thrives in doing this, but fails to do the former three. Its seemingly pointless wonder is familiar to that of appreciating water in one’s hands: shapeless, amorphous, and leaks at the moment you decide to cup it firm. It deserves some merit–give it that–even if only after a fashion.
Ricky Lee, scribe of the immortal “Himala,” writes the script for this film. I’m an admirer of Lee’s work, and while his script isn’t sufficiently admirable here, my opinion of him remains reasonably high. As I said, a multitude of faults hinder art. Lee’s script reeks melodrama (a common illness to local films) even by standards of an epic (or does this film qualify as one?), political-story. Some points of the film feels tedious and gratuitous, especially towards its revelation, where one massacre survivor nicked “Putol” is revealed to have been confined in a mental institution. There are others that felt the same way, but this one scene alone just felt…God, off?
Whilst oftentimes dissatisfying, “Lihis” offers Lamangan and Lee’s interestingly humane depiction of rebels (and society as a whole). The argument “terrorism or merely fighting for a cause” well applies here; as well as the way that society looks at homosexuality being far from immorality. Our two protagonists, Dominicador (Joem Bascon) and Cesar (Jake Cuenca) have two parallel battles: first, for their motherland; second, for their inward affection for each other. Both battles might not have won, but their cause, even if only in their little way, is worth to exalt. Bascon and Cuenca give their characters solid portrayals. Cuenca layers his character with conflict (and longing) that become awfully familiar to that of a film, directed by the astounding Ang Lee, called “Brokeback Mountain.” (This comparison is inevitable, I guess, and I believe you have seen it).
Lovi Poe (“Sana Dati”) instills life to her ferocious Cecilia, contrary to her elder version, played by Gloria Diaz, whose marriage to their character’s scorn somewhat lacks of intensity. Diaz’ real-life daughter, Isabelle Daza, who plays her character’s child Ada, isn’t exactly a great actress, which is entirely forgivable, given her minuscule film experience. Ada investigates the horrid killings under the hellish Marcos regime, which inevitably leads her to her father’s past, and, in a disappointing confrontation scene, reveals the truth about her mother. I’ve already brought about the weight of both timelines, and, as I type, also deduced that there are in fact three battles; the third battle being within Cecilia. The later timeline wherein the third battle occurs should be at least interesting, except it’s disappointingly mundane or merely, terribly mishandled.
Political dramas have had its peak in the 80’s; with “Gabi Na, Kumander” among others. A more recent title is Vincent Sandoval’s brutal “Aparisyon” which used, in a subtle fashion, political tyranny as an instrument to encapsulate both people in both sides the screen. But subtlety isn’t the way for Joel Lamangan’s “Lihis,” wherefore is a shame; it could have said its message better. Serve its purpose better. I’ve read once in Ricky Lee’s romantic novel, “Para Kay B,” that “a writer always over-dramatizes things.” The film’s climactic battle, is a good proof to his notion, or rather his character (from his novel) Betsy’s. It was that quasi-Shakespearean conclusion where two lovers wail each other’s names to their last breath, all in one head-scratching slow-motion sequence.
For the terribly clueless, I say this (in full candor): I find “Lihis” a difficult film to engage into.
RATING: 1.5 stars (out of 4)