In his 2016 Berlinale Award winning 8-hour epic Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), Filipino film auteur Lav Diaz intersects three narratives with settings in the forest, in the wake of the Katipunan Revolution of 1896-1897.
The first narrates Gregoria de Jeus’s search for the last remains of her husband, the Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonafacio; the second, Jose Rizal’s fictional protagonist Simoune’s escape into the forest; and the third, the impish horse-demon Tikbalangs who toy with the unwary visitors of the forest.
A history fabulated with myths, and a history little known, arrives as a crucial site to imagine Filipino histories that are evidenced outside existing discourse. Akin to the fragmentary and opaque histories the film tackles, the forest too does not thrive as a linear space that can be easily tendered to human enquiries. It is dense and labyrinthine, a meandering landscape playing a dyad of light and dark, known and unknown, visible and invisible.
Reading from the film then, this presentation undertakes the act of re-configuring the forest as typically understood in modernity. Considered a virginal space which is someplace else, removed from the violent intrusions of history – a sublime isolated landscape often – the forest can be re-imagined as a space that is lived and encountered materially, lived through all its density.
The forest expands the concept of history outside of the human while enfolding its own traces of history. It is a witness to the secret, untold histories that are enacted there, consequently becoming an archive of the same.
The forest becomes a crucial space that this project traverses: a closed world where anti-colonial revolutions meet pagan-animistic cultures, shamans meet with military personnel, and objects acquire magical lives of their own.
As a dense and vexing landscape, the forest allows one to closely introspect an entanglement with different species, enter into a world where objects, vegetal, animal or mineral, begin to speak alike.
To this effect, the paper introspects the interaction between the social and the cultural, the historical and the fantastic, the natural and the cultural even.
Pujita Guha is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics. She recently submitted her MPhil (Pre-PhD) that looked into the intersection of environmental consciousness and Southeast Asian cinemas, with a particular focus on Lav Diaz.
She has been published in various journals, is featured on upcoming anthologies, and currently teaches at Delhi University.
She is developing with curator Abhijan Gupta, The Forest Curriculum, an itinerant system of pedagogy that proposes to work with academics, film-makers, artists, musicians, activists, students and local stakeholders to produce systems of sharing located knowledge, organized around the issues of a particular location and field of operation that pertains to the Southeast Asian forest.