‘Ang Panahon ng Halimaw’ Takes on Tyranny with Music

Lav Diaz’s “musical” is subversive to the core

by Philbert Dy

 

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw takes place in the seventies, in the village of Ginto. A local armed militia has put together a plot to take control of the village, sowing lies and chaos in order to cow the local populace. The film then follows a series of characters: Hugo Haniway (Piolo Pascual), a poet in search of his wife Lorena (Shaina Magdayao), a doctor who went to the town to set up a clinic; Sinta (Pinky Amador), a woman who lost her family, and stands accused of being a witch; and Paham, the village wise man who warns the other villagers against the ambitions of the militia.

 

It is probably best to know what exactly one is walking into. The movie is 234 minutes long, a little under four hours. It is a musical insofar as there are songs and the characters are more or less singing throughout the entire runtime. But there is no accompaniment, and no grand stagings that bring forth the grandeur and whimsy generally associated with the genre. There is a lot of repetition: some of the songs are performed over and over, their refrains sung so often that it seeps deep into the subconscious. And through this, the movie delivers its very direct message about the nation and the current tyranny that holds it in its grip.

 

 

The film explores the possibilities of the musical form by pretty much rejecting most of its trappings. It mostly latches on to the form’s ability to turn subtext into text, the songs providing a medium through which the characters are allowed to poetically lay out what they stand for, and what they represent. The refrains deliver arguments and statements with resounding conviction, and they are repeated over and over through the length of this film. The film is certainly still as slow-paced as one would expect from a Lav Diaz film, but the songs get across a desperation that adds immediacy to the proceedings.

 

Because at its core, the movie is a call-to-arms. It speaks plainly about the injustices going on right now, about the tyranny that seems to have survived through decades of democracy. Diaz has never been very subtle about the things he wants to say through his films, but Ang Panahon ng Halimaw takes things a bit further than that. The film feels like it’s fueled with genuine frustration, and from a deep-seated sorrow that results in some genuinely horrifying scenes.

 

 

That is the key to this movie, really. In spite the seemingly austere presentation, there is a wild emotionality to it. This isn’t dry material at all. It screams with rage and horror. It weeps for what has been lost, and what we have yet to lose. It provokes, confronting the viewer with scenes that speak directly of our times. If you are open to what the film has to offer, it is one that becomes difficult to shake. Diaz channels his vision through a really talented ensemble that includes the likes of Pinky Amador, Bituin Escalante, and Piolo Pascual. It’s an odd combination that works perfectly well for the movie.

 

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is a truly radical film. It is subversive to its very core, railing against tyranny in all forms, including any orthodoxy one might associate with the genre in which it ostensibly belongs. There’s a lot to say about this movie, perhaps about the various ways that it is challenging. But that downplays the sheer power of this movie, the way it uses music to deliver a moving message of resistance, the way it crafts these images that really highlight the horrors of what this nation has been through, and it’s still going through now. It wouldn’t be prudent to say that the film is for everyone, but it doesn’t prevent one from wishing that everyone would see it.

 

 

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw is now showing at Glorietta 4, Trinoma, Market Market, Ayala Malls Cloverleaf, Ayala Fairview Terraces, and Ayala Center Cebu.