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TWO OR THREE THINGS ABOUT THE GUERILLA IS A POET

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By J. Chew
http://bananachews.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/two-or-three-things-about-the-guerilla-is-a-poet/
Posted on September 20, 2013

In the poem by Jose Maria Sison, the comparison is overt: the guerilla is like a poet. The film by Sari Dalena and Kiri Dalena drops the assertion of difference (or resemblance) and makes equal the two visions of the guerilla and the poet. This shift is not merely from one literary device to another, and is not limited to the film title. Dropping the hint of comparison (the “like”) makes the inversion possible: that great poetry (and by extension any great work of art) is revolutionary.

The Guerilla is a Poet (2013) is a great film.

The first great thing about The Guerilla is a Poet is its awareness of the limits of cinematic mimicry. Willie Nepomuceno playing Ferdinand Marcos is one of the many examples that comes to mind; the caricature, in my opinion, almost rivals Syberberg’s Hitler puppet in A Film From Germany. This seeming caricature is pretty loaded, at once comical and self-conscious that a simulation of atrocities makes for a passive (because fascinated) audience. What, after all is an accurate portrayal of darkness and menace and horror of the Martial Law years? Is not the reliance on the devices of “realism,” to an extent, bordering on the pornographic?

The second great thing about The Guerilla is a Poet is that it does justice to both lightness and weight, while privileging neither. As when Joma (Karl Medina) tells his wife Julie (Angeli Bayani, who like Garbo has a face that could plunge audiences into the deepest ecstasy*) in a particularly romantic marital moment that she is being considered for a position in the Party central committee. As when Kumander Dante urges Joma to go swimming with him (the scene unfolds like they’re two people just hanging out, the founders of the NPA and the CPP hanging out). As when a bug lingers at the barrel of a gun, the image squarely capturing at once both fragility and violence.

The third great thing about The Guerilla is a Poet is a variation of the first; aware of the limits of representation, it is equally aware of the possibilities of cinematic expression. It is a great documentary, in the same league as Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I (2000), Jia Zhangke’s 24 City (2008), Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and the late films of Yasujiro Ozu. It does not care for the rigidities of “fiction” versus “reality;” it disturbs and dissipates rather the perceived opposition.

Great poetry, according to the great poet Auden (writing about the great poet Brodsky), says something both unique and universal, something original but as soon as said is recognized valid by the readers. The Guerilla is a Poet in its poetic vision does that; it is great poetry.

– J. Chew

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