July 05, 2021
The Filipino auteur’s latest opus lampoons a Duterte-esque president struggling with a rebel enclave while a deadly flu epidemic rages
The Halt review – Lav Diaz’s absurdist alt-reality fable takes shot at authoritarianism
At four and three-quarter hours, the latest butt-numbing opus by Filipino auteur Lav Diaz is a veritable TikTok video by his standards. A needling and occasionally deranged assault on the Philippines’ most recent turn into authoritarianism, this monochrome sci-fi dystopia takes place in 2034 after a series of volcanic explosions has permanently darkened the skies, and the “Dark Killer” flu epidemic is tearing through the population (it was shot pre-Covid). President Nirvano Navarra (Joel Lamangan) – whose stocky physique and wild pronouncements make a fairly obvious match for real-life incumbent Rodrigo Duterte – decides to use the crisis to put a heavy lid on a simmering crockpot of dissidents.
Meted out mostly in long and often patience-stretching static takes, and in humdrum locations despite sci-fi inflections such as omnipresent flying drones, Diaz follows both Navarra’s retinue and the opposition. The leader is mollycoddled by two buttoned-up aides, Martha Officio (Hazel Orencio) and Marissa Ventura (Mara Lopez) – who are having an affair, though the latter also moonlights with history teacher turned sex worker Haminilda (Shaina Magdayao). Meanwhile, soulful resistance fighter Hook Torollo (Piolo Pascual) swans in like something from a Wong Kar-wai film. He hangs moodily with the oppressed, but is forced into an assassination attempt after Navarra unleashes Operation Black Rain, a plot to poison rebel enclaves under cover of the epidemic.
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