Tessa Maria Guazon
Or indeed, this world has been made strange,cannot take no more and comes to its inevitable end.
We are not forgiven or spared.
Qiyamah haunts with staggering potency in its handling of the apocalyptic theme. It begins with an eerie, almost sinister cacophony of rural sounds to mark waking, progresses to burdened words and fecund silence through dreaming, and rounds out through solemn quiet the nothingness that has become of this somnolent rural village in the Philippine South. Its opening sequence swarms with sounds: the buzz of nocturnal insects meld with the crowing of chickens and birds, the transistor’s fluctuating feeds cut through the hum and buzz of farm life. Musali, a young Muslim boy, awakens before our eyes amidst this symphony. He is the first to recognize that something is amiss on what could have been an ordinary morning. The ill-tuned radio grappling for signal becomes a drone then a siren and the sun’s rays are cast from the West.
Thus begins the inventory of signs which hound the village: the sunrise, the war in Yemen, the earthquake in Mecca. Some flee to places thought to be spared and most seek the wisdom of the village elder. All of them strive to live through the routine of farm life albeit in disquiet. There is no rush to build shelters or hoard supplies, no energy wasted on futile readiness for an end that cannot be escaped. We encounter village folk working the fields, weaving, or gathered in the routine activities of life steeped in reserve and contemplation ushered by the spectre of an impending end. Adults are weighed down by their pasts, contends with the complexity of moral choices. The children of the village face severed friendships and through deceptively untouched innocence confront the spectre of strange events.
Nature is accurate pulse and exacting judge in Qiyamah. More than any other element in the film, the village environs stirringly depict the demise of earthly life. Nights in the village are strapped by howling wind, its high noons awash in unearthly pearlescent glow, the faintly stirring leaves transform into admonishing gestures across a still born landscape. Felled crops are set against skies slit by light, Armageddon of clouds shrouding twilit fields, a sudden rainstorm as if the heavens have been upturned before our eyes. Doom and rot are essayed in parched soil, loamy skies, the sparse air; earth made still and slow, grass appear like wagging tongues or rearing snake heads. The children are seemingly inured from these unfathomable signs. One striking scene has Musali swaying to the gas lamp inside their hut during evening prayers.
Evil however descends on the village. Imagined as the Devil or some hideous monster, it violates Samida’s daughter. Yet the nightmare does not end with her rape, her brother dies from attempts to avenge her. Men from the village hunt the monster and finally accosted, the sky damns him with a bolt of lightning. The scene is the most evocative from all the films viewed this year by the YCC. It is unexpected, bringing a powerful jolt that punctures the senses, rendering in lingering trace not only Qiyamah’s tightly wound plot but the larger questions concerning life and death, the elusive end to the raging conflict in parts of Mindanao, and the gulf between innocence and evil.
Musali trades his dream for a secret with Mona the crippled girl who is victim and witness to the doings of the Devil. He nurses a fever from which he recovers with acute feeling for the earth. The land, trees and caves all murmur and call to him. At this juncture, we imagine the end is aborted but director Gutierrez Mangansakan II orchestrates it in sheer poetry. Samida, the childless mother lets out a shrill cry of grief, groping dry earth to summon her dead children. She brushes earth on skin to appease the pain of loss. Village folk recognizes another sign, pauses in their farm chores with deadly calm. We see them gathered in a bunker next, after which the camera falters and moves, becomes perplexed by the numerous signs the heavens are sending our way. A barrel of smoke crawls up the darkened sky, after which the jolted lens settles on the huddled forms of Musali, his parents Wahab and Amina who were suddenly obliterated by a white, blinding blanket of light.
While Qiyamah partakes of the nothingness that shape apocalyptic films, it grounds it well within a local moral world; that of the small village, its council of men and the ties between women. It foregrounds tainted innocence as it tries to ferret out the workings of evil in a world which little by little has shrunk both in its physical realm and within the imagination of those who inhabit it. Qiyamah underscores the fickle nature of our individual desires and dreams, whose value and gravity becomes apparent only in context of relations with others. Without trace of anguish or regret, Musali and Mona imagine the afterlife, the crippled girl is majorette of a band whose leader is a boy with whom the earth about to vanish has whispered her final plea.