In 2009, directors John Torres and Frosti Runolfsson, participants in DOX:LAB which endeavors to partner Scandinavian filmmakers with Middle-Eastern, Asian or African filmmakers for a film project, ventured into rural Antique to document the hudas-hudas, a practice done in a small town in the province every Black Saturday where an effigy of Judas is hanged and burned in the town center. Mapang-akit, assembled from footage that was unused for the documentary, may be accused as a mere product of afterthought. Fortunately, it is as gorgeous as it is anomalous, an alluring and exhilarating mix of communal and personal mythology, of documentary filmmaking and fictional storytelling, and finally, of the overtly banal and the subtly sublime.
Mapang-akit owes much to Torres' creative process in Ang Ninanais (Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song, 2010), where he made use of footage gathered while shooting in Panay Island. Everything, from people, stories, history, and language become separate components that are assembled to complete a whole that while reminiscent of its individual parts is clearly and convincingly different. Interestingly missing in the film however are Torres' voice-over and poetry, marking a movement for Torres towards a storytelling style where he does not feature as a main element. What essentially remains is an idea that is just as personal as all the other ideas that populated all of his shorts and features, germinated from local myths and realized through astute artistry into a dazzling portrait of a woman adored and envied for her beauty and scorned for her being.
It is a lovely-looking film, relatable considering that what Torres primarily captures are random images of provincial life, but enveloped by some sort of supernatural gleam. People talk. Their discussions are kept secret, even to Torres, by the foreignness of their spoken dialect. With only the rhythms and melodies of what is heard from the villagers, Torres tells a very loose story of an alluring woman who has enchanted local men who mysteriously die through subtitles that do not correspond with what is actually being said.
Mapang-akit benefits much from the randomness of how things unfold, which seems rooted to the film's formerly documentary intentions. The camera is curiously observant, reacting to the most delicate of details like the sudden gush of wind, the musical invites of a passing ice cream vendor, a random carabao that becomes curiously attracted to the act of being recorded on film. There is always that sense of being within the film as opposed to being mere unaffected onlookers, making the film unusually compelling despite the seeming mundaneness of everything.
While it is unavoidable that ethical questions are raised since the subjects are not actors who are portraying fictional characters, Torres never claims to tell the truth as most of the world normally sees it. Truth, after all, is sometimes overrated, especially when heartlessly removed from what should be a truly personal experience. Instead, he paints very personal dreams and visions on a canvas made from the visual and aural landscapes of hid footage, making the province's dormancy irresistibly seductive and its unravelling mysteries oddly romantic.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)