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Love Letters
Feature by: Tiffany Limsico

From Kong Rithdee


Isnít love blind? Isnít a love letter a blind manís letter? Blind like when you fall headfirst into the marsh of history. Blind like when you hear poetry being read in the dark. Blind like when a group of peasant children tilt their heads and widen (not squint) their eyes to watch a solar eclipse, unafraid of the bursting corona that will make them go, well, blind. Thinking about the possibility of blindness, I think of that eclipse scene from Raya Martinís 2005 film A Short Film About Indio Nacional, as well as other scenes from that cinematic arcanum about the indio people of the Philippines during the colonial time. The scene is heralded first by a silent-film intertitle, in elegant long-hand writing. Then the children gather in the middle of a field, one by one, and they roll their heads back, pop their eyes and hang their mouths open in amazement, or superstition, or horror, as the beautifully ominous eclipse signals the dark times to come. Soon the mothers will come out to reprimand their children and shepherd them back to safety, leaving only the village bell-ringer alone to witness the terrible poetry of the sky. The bell-ringer doesnít go sightless; instead heís the one who sees it all and who realizes that those who go blind are those who stop looking, those who avert their gaze and pretend to look away from whatís happening. All of this takes place while Khavn De la Cruzís dissonant, impromptu hyper-expressionistic piano music sharpens the sense of impending nightmare. Raya Martin has bled out the color from his 35mm film stock and the image in A Short Film About Indio Nacional is that of a faded postcard found stashed in the forgotten attics of the Spanish Intramuros in Manila.

The film is young Rayaís haunting forerunner to Independencia. Itís also an early manifesto announcing the filmmakerís fixation with cinema as a means to reclaim the memory buried under centuries of colonial rules, a defiant pastiche of a generation that doesnít wish to forget past suffering since itís the key to their present, and future. I didnít share the legacy of that suffering, but for a fleeting heart-swelling second while watching A Short Film About Indio Nacional, I had an epiphany, or I thought I had. The eclipse in Rayaís movie doesnít make you go blind. Like love, it makes you see.

Yours, very truly

Kong Rithdee

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