October 6, 2009
The idea that history is written by the conquerors and not the vanquished shapes the consciousness of Raya Martin's distilled and meticulously crafted film, Independencia, a highly formalized reconstruction (and reclamation) of a lost, unwritten history: one communicated in the language of an indigenous people but framed in the conventional, accepted syntax of "official" (and implicitly, Western) history. The second installment of an envisioned trilogy on the history of a dominated Philippines, Independencia succinctly bridges the end of Spanish colonization at the turn of the nineteenth century with the advent of American occupation in the opening shot of Filipinos in an already subjugated state (dressed in traditional Spanish attire in lieu of native clothing) at an unidentified village who are thrown into chaos by the sound of distant bombing. A mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and her dutiful son (Sid Lucero) flee to the forest, holing up in an abandoned hut in an attempt to outlast the advancing invaders, subsequently joined by a young woman (Alessandra de Rossi) who had been raped by American soldiers and left to die in the wilderness. However, as time wears on and the invaders continue to encroach ever deeper into the heart of the forest (ingeniously reflected through the overtly artificial, painted backdrop of trees that become progressively deforested during the course of the film), the displaced natives - which now includes a young boy (Mika Aguilos) - retreat further and further towards the mountains, finally reaching the edge of the shore. Martin incisively explores the intersection between national history and cinema history to illustrate the idea of a mediated gaze that defines the other through distanced, imprecise, subjective codes that ingrain a sense of hierarchy. Visually, Martin reflects this process of cultural imperialism in the images of supplanted native identity that bookend the film: from the opening shot of Filipinos in figuratively handed down Spanish clothing (that also alludes to the reinforcing of dominant cultures implicit in the act of international charity), to the ominous tincture of color suffusing the horizon against a Mount Fuji-esque scenic landscape (reminiscent of scroll work) that augurs the arrival of the Japanese.