Quiet Lightning: Our Review of ‘Balikbayan #1’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective by - November 15, 2017
Quiet Lightning: Our Review of ‘Balikbayan #1’

I admit that I had to look up what post-colonial cinema is. I did this after watching one of its examples. Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdepevolment Redux. TIFF Bell Lightbox is showing the film as part of a retrospective. And the call the retrospective “Quiet Lightning: The Films of Kidlat Tahimik”. Mind you, most people know post-colonialism as a nebulous concept. It is nice to know what post-colonialism is by the letter. This film is Tahimik’s third stab at telling the story of Enrique of Malacca (Tahimik). Enrique is a slave under the Spanish Empire who regained his freedom and home after his master’s death.

According to Tahimik, Enrique the first Filipino balikbayan, an overseas worker who returned to the Philippines. Tahimik tells Enrique’s story within a genre of reclamation, people taking back what’s theirs often through violent means. There’s violence here, as he depicts the events that helped Enrique gain his said freedom. However, these events take a background position and instead  he chooses humour and play. One of the tenets of postcolonial thought is the futility of full return and reclamation. And the cinema that goes with it, especially his work, reflects that futility. But he doesn’t mourn that loss, he laughs at it.

Tahimik reenacts scenes of Enrique’s life – there’s a specific scene where the latter hunts a boar with a yo-yo. The boar is clearly a plastic one and the yo-yo is no longer the weapon it once was. The falseness of this reenactment is more apparent by his National Geographic-like narration. We see an incomplete picture of a people diluted by Western influence. He shows the two impulses that these fragments causes. Either we leave the fragments as is or we continually search for the pure indigenous version of ourselves. The second reaction comes into play for the film’s two other story lines.

The second story line involves an old, indigenous Filipino (Tahimik) travelling across Luzon. In his heels is a European looking man (Kawayan de Guia) who’s looking for him. They take their steps on shaky soil, nature taking a firmer hold on something these two call home. And this cat and mouse journey shows, again, Western influence in Filipino life. It calling out how American rock and indigenous clothing both make sense and don’t in a Filipino setting. The third is a making-of feature, showing what Tahimik had to do to expand Enrique’s story line. While telling these three parallel narratives, he switches from film to digital. It marks the difference between a dreamlike sheen and clarity, both present in this intellectually dense film.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.