ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN (Jun Lana, 2015)
* English title "Shadow behind the Moon"
The best term to describe Jun Lana's latest film would be a cinematic charade- a game of identities, of motives, of suppressed passions, and of uncertainty. Or the film equivalent of a Russian doll, if you will.
"Anino sa Likod ng Buwan" only has three characters- husband and wife Nando (Anthony Falcon) and Emma (LJ Reyes) and military man Joel (Luis Alandy). What started as a seemingly routine banter among friends gradually and intensely escalated into an examination of society, where the definition of immorality is blurred during a time of insurgency.
And in fact, the film does discuss the subject of immorality from various paradigms. When does adultery become acceptable, and to whom? Is sexual liberation more heinous than murder? Why is immorality always a double standard? The film plays out the ideas in endless games. Or are they really games at all?
Lana could have stopped there, but he didn't. He went beyond the veneer of reality to analyze the ever-changing gender roles of the milieu. The time was 1993, when Fidel V. Ramos just recently ascended to the presidency. Before him, the country had its first woman president in the person of Corazon Aquino. The film does not mention these basic historical details, but it exists in the knowledge of these time stamps. The plot not only plays out as a battle of principles between soldiers and civilians, but rather between men and women.
The setting is in the Marag Valley in Luna, Apayao, once referred to as the "hotbed of rebellion" against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, during the seventies. However, Marag Valley could have meant anywhere, seeing as the issues put forward by Lana in the film still rings true today- sexism, political upheaval, social injustice, these are all universal themes, especially in the Philippines, where history is easily forgotten.
To say more would be to divulge the story's core, and thus would ruin one's viewing experience. For two hours, Lana managed to hold the viewer under arrest. There is no escape from this maddening, dialogue-heavy but otherwise compelling tale of false pretenses.
All the players rendered equally masterful performances. Anthony Falcon, Luis Alandy and LJ Reyes all gave credible realizations of their respective characters, with Reyes showcasing her finest acting to date. The long take format of the film added challenge to the actors, but everyone was up to the task.
Shot in the 4:3 letterbox format and presented in a grainy video resolution, "Anino sa Likod ng Buwan" felt at one with the time period that it portrays, and one could even watch it in the future and mistake it as a film made in the early nineties, or eighties. The colors are even muted to reflect the grim tone of the film. These might not have been what Lana and cinematographer Carlo Mendoza had in mind, but if they were, then they were correct creative choices.
War kills people, but it also destroys humanity, more than others. "Anino sa Likod ng Buwan" is easily one of the best Filipino films of the year, if not the best.