J. Pilapil Jacobo
Kalayaan situates the allure that by turns confirms and disavows the estranging demeanor of the tropics within the sheer negativity of silence.
Julian Macaraig is the soldier marooned on an island in the Spratlys. The duress of such an assignment lies not so much on the risks behind serving the nation in a space of dispute but on the veritable absence of that purported insecurity in the signified site. Banal is the isle. Its tranquillity does not tantalize. And so,despair is rendered mute before a tropicality whose rhythm is nowhere near glamorous percussion. Speech, then, is very much curtailed here, for the most part, and confined to slurred radio passages in Filipino and delirious interjections from a dated Japanese porn movie. Director Adolf Alix, Jr. strikes at something ingenious by proposing this thesis on opacity.
In its under erasure of the verbal fetish that has rendered cinema in these parts incapable of speaking both its screen and its play, the piece assures us of the possibilities of film as veneer and vicinity. Bereft of dialogue until its second half, Kalayaan appears in delectably precarious ways. The image is accorded a certain time-signature that in turn apportions to the sense a manner of apprehending that very sensibility. The island becomes mere routine, certainly a circumference, whenever the stranded body performs a regimen, calisthenic or otherwise. Allure is nothing real; it is merely a guise. The aura of the island is a curious vibe, yes, but one merely overheard by the overeager other from an unreliable source. The Cuban poet José Lezama Lima reminds us: the enemy is rumor.
In denial of the body’s automatization within this habitat, the face resorts to practices of articulation which more or less cathect earnestness, or its semblances, to sentiment. Whether the choice of having the wraithlike Ananda Everingham, a Laotian-Australian whose career is based in Bangkok, play an earth-bound Julian is, at best fanciful, or entirely ill-advised, we do note something clever in the experiment. His translucency suggests an understanding of what “veneer” might mean for film, as membrane, a mask expertly thin, if not properly diaphanous, that it can confide in us a thing or two about the depth of surface. It is what it is: pellicule. For sure, as what it now chooses to display is its own content, as, if one wills, context; the “vicinity,” again,as that circumference, only needs to be deciphered according to its arrangement. Here goes, then: the carceral, pace Michel Foucault, is this archipelago.
What remains proximately tactile is the trauma that is incited into discourse by that silence. The film attempts to resolve this impasse through a) first, a recourse to speech, with the intrusion of two soldiers (Zanjoe Marudo and Luis Alandy) who try to enfold Julian back into the world through narrative exchange; and b) second, a descent into that allure, myth. The return of dialogue merely scratches the surface that has already become exhilarating even without the intervention of reportage and rhetorical statement. With speaker as sycophant, image becomes caricature. Zanjoe Marudo is a simpleton, as far as his talk is concerned. The ambience that envelops his verbiage affirms the rumor of a siren. Her skin is blue-green, lest we forget. And the palette of a particular talent does not disappoint either. With this encounter, the island ends, and the forlorn is nevermore. Happy are those who seek to be satisfied.
Sound is sounded, somehow, at least, as the film opens: one hears a soar, that lingers, in spite of a snarl, deep within the arborage. Any ear that yearns to sense le bruissement de la langue, “the rustle of language,” must nonetheless seek the sussurus elsewhere, after the overture.
Free from the negative capability of silence, Kalayaan can only listen to itself.