Melancholia, the latest masterwork from revered Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, smolders with the embers of black emotions and delivers on the promise of its portentous title. A film about bereavement and loss, Melancholia documents the tragic plight of desaparecidos, those forced to disappear, and those dispossessed by their disappearance. While there is a dark lingering on personal and private sorrows, the sorrows emanate and resonate equally from social and ideological solicitudes.
Running at a meditative and heavy 450 minutes, Melancholia proceeds ponderously and woundedly in this saga of the bereaved and the disappeared, recalling such films on the same theme and subject as Luis Puenzo's The Official Story. In Melancholia, however, there is the likeness of a double madness -- one born out of the sorrows of its characters and the other born out of their artificial efforts to overcome these sorrows. Meanwhile, the imagining of the dead is close to idealization, sheer heroes in the fictive mind (romantic even to the very end). So there lies the emotional crux of the living in this film: how to move on, how to forget, against the cruel tenor of memory.
Memory here is conscience itself, a burden but a necessary evil. It is not just an unshakable scourge that will not let up, but a kind of register, a document of history that will never let injustice go uncommented and unvindicated, certainly not those inflicted by the muscular fascism of a government. Here, the coercions of artificial solutions such as psychology – a kind of ideological state apparatus, Orwellian and Althusserian, that returns those who deviate and dissent to the control of society – is no match for the inexorable onslaught of painful remembrance. There is no forgetting. Time, with all its clichés, is no healer.
When we meet them at the outset, the bereaved are not unlike fugitive characters from a Pirandellian play, converging on the amphitheater of Sagada: Alberta, Rina and Julian, all bereaved by the loss of their revolutionary spouses. They have sought refuge in psychological treatments, as well as support groups meant for their kind, but they remain tormented by grief and and anguish. Immersed in one character after another,
Characters in Melancholia – like the learned and literate artists in Death in the
Thus we find Melancholia’s characters reassuming their real lives in the capital. Far from the prostitute of
Here, as in its companion piece, the equally vitriolic and similarly themed Death in the
But, while crying injustices remain, and while towards the end of Melancholia, repressive state apparatuses are overwhelming and ruthless, Diaz tries to leave us with subtle reassurances. We see a quiet and lyrical imagining of how Renato,