J. Pilapil Jacobo
There is a scene in Kristian Sendon Cordero’s sophomore film “Hinulid” that manifests the predicament of mourning the narrative seeks to work through in its iterations of how forlorn the human can be when abandoned permanently through that event: death.
It is dusk in Iriga. Sita Dimaiwat (Nora Aunor) passes through the cemetery arch on which the Latin phrase “Via Omni Caris” is painted; the bodiless may not cross. Sepulchres are built not to hold the remains of the departed; the mausoleum is such a place, because we are all alone, we fear ourselves also fading. Do not leave just yet; here, a monument. Through a labyrinth of marmoreal tombs, Aunor blends in with the shades of a tropic crepuscule: ochre, as the evanescent sun; obsidian, like the night’s mantle. When she finds her son Lukas (Jesus Mendoza) weeping before the epitaph of his big winner, the priest Mamo (Raffi Banzuela), she enters a frame of grief: she sees the one she has yet to mourn for, mourning.
That the rhythms of sorrow commingle in this instance points to the opportunity where the film locates the time where one is entitled to grieve—memory, that interregnum in the mind where one labors too hard to come to terms with passage: what has gone is not only lost; it is foregone to be found as missing. Even when the injury is not total, the site of ruin tells us: here lies all the hurt, every inch speaks of an unendurable damage. One asks: Did it happen? Was he here? Were all of it true? The moment of provenance is only staged in the instance of yearning.
Cordero is most anxious to pursue this cusp of thought that he conjures the memorialization through a mode of retrieval that reduces intimations of previous horizons of expectations to a mere if not a modest proposal.
The mourning is grounded in a myth of how galactic light is split between maternal brilliance and cherubic luminosity and how the earth registers this scission upon a meteorite isle where fireflies surrender their final blaze. This cosmogonic parabasis internalized as local knowledge is inlaid with a colonial narrative of christological interment: the Messiah is dead, yes, but thrice, as a statuary of identical eburnean figures clothed in vermilion radiance and encased in cuboid glass. Such triplication is a mnemonic to refuse the telos of a sorrowful mystery, much like the melismatic ululations of the folk which decorate elegiac enjambments of the Pasyon quintilla and prevent the lyric from punctuating itself quite predictably, in prosopopeiac loneliness. It has to be said that while this aspect of colonial idiom is now read as a gesture of sufferance that choreographs revolutionary movements, what remains to be articulated is how dolorous maternity intervenes in activating intransigence. “Hinulid” could fulfill that feminine reading of the passion.
It is quite strange that while it is Sita who is portrayed as sorrowful, the dolefulness is not demonstrated according to her lamentational terms. Instead, the agony is projected upon her through this Christ thrice interred. This puts into question the memory that her consciousness is supposed to verify as the truth of her mourning. Sita needs to grieve a dead son thrice: the precocious sacristan, the awkward teen poet, the brooding student of law. What is amplified by this triplication? I’m trying to remember Nora’s face through the three hours of Cordero’s Bikol epic and for the first time, after all those years, Aunor registers vacancy. There is magnification, yes. Mourning becomes Nora, and thrice so. Each time this is staged however, in distinction (her moments of grief delineated through the avatars of his dead son), or in simultaneity (the bereavement syncopated in ternary rhythm), the dolour, because of the imposed repetition, is not pithy.
This peculiar Santo Entierro will only make sense if its triplication can be argued to originate from the Mater Dolorosa herself, and in a relation of correspondence that is less reaction than receipt. The peculiarity of this Pieta should also be mariologically immanent. If Christ could die thrice, of course, Mary should mourn in the same time signature. Nonetheless, the cinema of “Hinulid” must also elaborate how dolorous maternity is thrice possible from a Marian perspective. After all, the narrative is told by Sita, not from her son dying through three ages. The film cannot be assumed to be told “de profundis.”
Fray Marcos de Lisboa’s “Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol” defines “holid” as “recostar al niño en el regazo, o en la cuna.” To lay a child on one’s lap, or in his crib: these are acts of maternal nurturance. And yet this scene also makes sense as the Pieta, inasmuch as it exudes that moment of the Nativity. If Sita must inter her son thrice, it is because his death reminds her of the emptiness of her womb through his childhood, boyhood, youth. His death finally affirms the terminus of her being a woman. Hollowed out by loss, she embodies a desert longing. This must be Aunor’s late style thesis. My well of loneliness has been depleted. I am nothing. I have known all manner of fatigue. I was all womb before. Now, let me be his sepulchre.
And yet: Can this strange fruit return to me, a flower that has long faded? Did my body bear him only for this burial? Was my immaculate conception, my freedom from an originary offense, only a forethought to understanding this emptiness, my blessed virginity as sarcophagus? Did I visit Elizabeth to know of this gift, to be arid once more for the seed of my universal fertility?
Sita mourns the 1) body of her son: 2) the memory of the body she has reared; 3) and her own obsolescence, which she must remember and grieve in advance. Pace Blanchot, one is never present at one’s own death. If his son has faded ahead of her, the hour of her own death looms large in solitariness. Nora’s eyes are vacant to honor the imminence.
What is assumed in the Assumption is mariological mortality. Cordero’s catholic text recuperates such orthodoxy by intending to depict in the triplication the dormition of a conduit of divine indigeneity. Theotokos ruminates on that insight: Thanatos. Now we finally understand that Maria Purissima only ripens to intuit her own deliquescence.
Notwithstanding the truth that mourning the memory of the dearly departed can only be worked through intimately, the secrecy of grief must not be reduced to the sheer privations of the domestic. Memory is not stronger than justice. Memory is as strong as justice. If Cordero has written a screed against the capillaries of power through an indictment of a matrix of institutions which plot the murder of its most thoughtful activists, then an autopsy of power must be demanded, perhaps not through the parabolic distensions of folklore, but within a critical ethnography similar to Nancy Scheper Hughes’s study on “death without weeping” among mothers in a Brazilian necropolis. That Sita refuses the activation of social justice from this instance of motherly hurt turns the critique of institutional power into a perfunctory exercise of grievance that masks a reactionary undercurrent. If homo necans is explained as he is, a person who murders, killing outside the realm of law and in spite of it, now makes fatal sense. If Mary failed to seek justice against Judaic theocracy within Roman imperial jurisprudence, repetitions of such violation of sacred motherhood must be worked out in the post-colonial world, in our case, through the vernacular revolutions of the Pasyon traumaturgy.
“Hinulid” is a cinematic epic from Bikol, particularly a contact zone between the antipodes of catholic Naga and folk Legazpi; Rinconada, where the writer-director and the actress were born and raised, is the linguistic consciousness that seeks its visual form in the film. Iriga becomes the city full of grace. The literary education of the filmmaker entitles him to graft discourses of faith and science through a high modernist mode of narration characterized by heterochrony, expressionism, and a self-conscious system of trope-turning, so that metaphor becomes the principle of argument to argue for the transformation of the screenplay into an allegory of spirit whose rhetoricity takes over the exigencies of montage and mis-en-scène. The cornucopia of symbolic possibilities can be overwhelming, to the point that a scene becomes vacuous time-space. Guillermo Abrenica’s cinematographic approach understands Cordero’s vision of tropical languor and the tedium that such slowness entails. His camera, assisted by Randy Dagooc’s scopus, may be encumbered by immobility, but he allows portraits and still lives to occupy a landscape by turns verdant and grey, at times punctuated by the cardinal choices of art directors Ryan Cuatrona and Celine Belino to portray christophanic hemorrhage. Alec Figuracion’s editorial decisions are precise, seizure of distinctions and simultaneities is indefatigable, although sometimes almost undercut by Cordero’s desire to sprint against himself, as co-editor. The acting ensemble superbly orchestrates a heteroglossic tone variegating on the singular sentiment of melancholy, although Eilyn Nidea is most seductive as a high priestess of the mountains, Jess Volante’s Homeric exhortations are bone-piercing, and Delia Enverga’s crone-mother accesses the sublime objects of the funerary. Raffi Banzuela’s aphoristic style is peerless; he is also perspicacious as a trickster within the Church. Kirby Pala’s purity can disperse the darkest skepticism, while Ken Balmes’s recitals of Gerard Manley Hopkins interlocute the impressionable and the cynical inflections of Lukas’s persona; his caesuras can be full of breath. Jesus Mendoza’s nose is as almost perfect as the Mayon’s cone, but his emotive depths are as various as the Buhi lake. His ultimate version of Lukas is a romantic genius who cannot jump into the crucible of the infinite, because human, all too human to fail as lover and beloved.
In “Hinulid,” Nora Aunor returns to Bikol to mourn thrice, and die along that tropic percussion, against her own will, but in concert with the heart. Those eyes are vacated by sentimentality for the most part, because Sita’s condition pertains to the emotional fragment. The voice is broken, yes, but there must have been so much bliss in the chance to speak in the tongue of her earth, where her agonies and ecstasies remain untethered, through the language of her art made contemporary with the world and vernacular to history by this terrible son of her own homeland, Kristian Sendon Cordero. Memory is stronger than cinema.