MANILA, Philippines – The film begins in still, silent violence.
Black and white photos of geothermal gas are framed on screen. The shots provide little context. Each photo is marked with a seemingly arbitrary figure – a number, a date. We are eased, if not teased into the film’s comfortable stillness.
But then the screen explodes.
We witness a volcanic eruption as if up close. These are no longer, distanced, still photography. This is cinema.
Director Jet Leyco’s “Bukas Na Lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na” reminds us of the raw power of visuals, and the importance of context.
While the film follows no traditional narrative, it is a quieting reminder that every frame tells its own story. “Bukas Na Lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na” is a film of 4 tangentially related stories, each providing another piece to a much larger whole; but the resulting form is impressively more expansive than each of its individual parts.
To describe Leyco’s process as experimental would be to brand him with the same labels he tries so hard to avoid. There is an indisputable sense of rebellion in his style. It is intentional and irreverent; but it is also deeply personal.
A small rural wedding is documented by an amateur videographer. The frame is plagued with analog noise. We infer everything from the innocently naïve inquiries of our guide, but it is just enough for us to realize that this is not the happy ending promised to us by Hollywood.
When the young groom is shot at the altar, his corpse is cradled by his weeping window. The visuals shift from a noisy black and white to a solemn yet polished frame. Unlike the film’s intentionally disorienting introduction, there is composition here. There is intention. But when the widow and her dead husband look into the camera and straight into our eyes, we realize that there is also revelation.
Violence and censorship
Violence plays an integral role throughout the film; but it is depicted in a manner that is both thoughtful and alarming. Gunshots are masked by cartoonish sparks of light, and sounds are replaced with video game inspired laser beams.
When rebel and military forces clash in the thick jungle, the effect is almost comical, but no less intentional. Leyco derails his own violence to remind us of the superficiality of the product we are experiencing. This is not actual conflict. This is not real war.
But when an old man is caught in the middle of the conflict, we cannot help but feel drawn to his plight. He lies huddled against a tree, the sound of pastiche gunfire echoing around him. But it is not him we feel for, but his son, a rebel soldier whose fate within the conflict remains a mystery.
When Leyco finally cuts to raw footage of actual rebels in training, we can no longer tell if it is Leyco’s hand guiding the camera, or if we are viewing real world video of rebel forces. It challenges our own belief of the experience, but never quite removes us from it.
It’s worth noting that the film was originally rated X by the MTRCB. And though the controversial scene that earned the film its rating was ultimately censored, the manner in which it is accomplished becomes its own commentary on media censorship.
A Rebel with a cause
“Bukas Na Lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na” makes a habit of stealing its audience away from the comfortable. Leyco’s knowledge of his craft is fully exercised as he breaks, challenges and rebuilds our understanding of narrative. We discover his characters in glimpses, but they are commemorated in frames. His development of structure is distinct, but just as purposeful.
Leyco admits that inspiration for the film was drawn from the bedtime stories of his mother. But each time Leyco would prod her for another retelling, she would simply beg off with the film’s own title: “Bukas Na Lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na.”
The film goes out of its way to remind us that it is a product of media. It is a recreation, a reproduction, and hardly a compelling substitute for the reality it tries to capture. But it is also a justification of cinema, whose result is something that is just as powerful and just as poignant.
Watch the trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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