Audaciously Straightforward: Movie Review of Lav Diaz's "Ang Hupa" (The Halt, 2019)
First seen by filmmakers, critics, and cinephiles at the Directors' Fortnight (non-competition section) of Cannes Film Festival last summer of 2019, Lav Diaz's Ang Hupa (The Halt) is coming back to the big screen this year thanks to Quezon City's popular moviehouse, Cinema Centenario. It had left audiences bewildered during the opening day of Cinemalaya 2019, with some considering it the most straightforward film of the critically-acclaimed auteur to date.
Familiar yet distant, Ang Hupa is set in 2034 Metro Manila. However, fashion, architecture, and music remain unchanged. In this setting, a national ID system is strictly implemented, camera drones serve as a robotic police surveillance system, and artillery is not as advanced as it must be. Filipino masses continue to work for scraps in a socio-economic condition made bleaker by the darkness of the sky for the last three years. A natural calamity that has caused the clouds to completely cover the sun was what catapulted Nirvano Navarra (Joel Lamangan) to presidency, enforced by the military—or by divine right as he claims. Fronting as a heaven-sent solution to all the problems of the Philippines, Navarra rules the country with terror and fear and allows the army to execute all those who oppose him. While his ways are harsh and tongue sharp as steel, still the fictional President resorts to gardening, feeding his pets, or knitting while wearing a worn-out daster (woman's indoor dress) in his unflatteringly small apartment to take a break.
Meanwhile, the nation is slowly recovering from the epidemic that had struck it a few years back and killed millions. Vaccines are being handed out, but fear lingers and despair grows with it. The portrayal of misery in various sectors of society—of which President Navarra could be oblivious of—are seen through the circumstances and moral dilemmas faced by two special forces officers Marissa (Mara Lopez) and Martha (Hazel Orencio), history teacher by day and sex worker by night Hammy (Shaina Magdayao), psychotherapist and political theorist Dr Jean Hadoro (Pinky Amador), and renegade-turned-assassin Hook Torollo (Piolo Pascual).
Ang Hupa veers away from Diaz's signature long takes, setting each scene with exactness. The film portrays a cadence that begins lightly — as if the characters have accepted the dark realities of life — then gradually quickens its pace like a thief in the night. The stark contrast of finding hope and escapism are unravelled throughout the film with a screenplay that attempts to open conversations on nationalism, historical revisionism, depression, insanity, the loss of life and the will to live. With this, Diaz takes noir in Filipino cinema a certain degree higher than Ishmael Bernal's Manila By Night (City After Dark) with his chiaroscuro.
In the past, Diaz's lead characters are usually driven with vengeance or a clear intention to personally serve justice, but in Ang Hupa, we find that the characters of Hook and Hammy become better people. Though their storylines do not intertwine, their stories serve as a parallel exploration of hope and identity. The film ends swiftly and somewhat hilariously, particularly the storyline of Navarra—a powerful execution of dark comedy that one may not expect.
How does one topple down a fascist regime when hopelessness has already forged indifference? Does hope really lie in the youth of the nation as they are innocent and idealistic as they claim to be? How does it all end—this dizzying spiral of calamities that strike not only our blood-drenched land but also our consciousness?
Lav Diaz's Ang Hupa premiered in the Philippines at the Cinemalaya 2019 Festival as opening film and had its pocket releases in select schools thereafter. Watch out for its limited release schedule at Cinema Centenario's Instagram account.