On October 25, 1593, a befuddled soldier in a different uniform and with a varying type of musket–was found in front of the palace in Mexico City during the changing of the guard. His name was Gil Perez, and he explained that he had just been guarding the governor’s palace halfway around the world in Manila, Philippines. He was arrested, questioned, and imprisoned for two months before a Filipino ship was able to take him back. Several eyewitnesses corroborated Perez’s claims that he was indeed in Manila the very day before he was found in Mexico. This bizarre case of teleportation partly inspired the maverick Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin’s Buenas Noches, España.
Buenas Noches, España begins in a similar way as the one in which Michael Snow’s Wavelength–one of the great milestones of visually and aurally cacophonous and experimental cinema–ends. Wavelength concludes with the camera initially fixed on a wall, with a framed photo of waves in the sea as a small focal point. Then the camera zooms in, and the film eventually ends with a close-up of the framed photo. Martin’s film begins as a tiny on-screen space. The on-screen space itself grows, not as a zoom, but as an enlargement of the screen space itself. Inside it are a young Spanish couple watching TV while smoking pot and munching on snacks. Then the couple gets transported into the narrative of Martin’s film, one that has no dialogue but is depicted through Super 8mm-shot sequences that were converted to alternating monochromatic palettes in postproduction.
As Perez’s story of teleportation defied the rules of space and time, Martin’s films defy the form and narrative of conventional cinema. His cinema is that of liberation–politically, spatially, formally, and artistically. Like the other serious contemporary Filipino filmmakers, he explores the national identity of the Philippines, but in a relentlessly avant-garde manner. The film’s young couple is Spanish because the national identity of the Philippines is inexorably linked to Spain’s three centuries long colonization. And a seemingly unrelated story of a Filipino’s teleportation to Mexico also has everything to do with national identity, as Spain had decided to rule the Philippines from the New World and the archipelago was ultimately more influenced by Mexican than Spanish culture.
The seemingly haphazard 50-minute long chronicle of the young couple doing what young couples do–chasing each other while making funny faces and so on–ends when they go to a museum and their collective gaze gets transfixed on a series of paintings by Juan Luna, a Filipino artist who made his name in Europe. Pilar Lopez de Ayala, the lead actress whose profoundly Iberian face could launch a thousand Spanish armadas, arrives at an epiphany, the kind described by the Hungarian literary critic György Lukács in his Theory of the Novel: “At very rare, great moments—generally they are moments of death—a reality reveals itself to man in which he suddenly glimpses and grasps the essence that rules over him and works within him, the meaning of his life.” The visual and aural cacophony–induced by epilepsy-inducing handheld Super 8mm camerawork and Looney Tunes sound effects–ends and the two lovers get transported to a serene beach, now shot in calm-inducing black and white. Perhaps Martin is saying that through a more proactive and thoughtful engagement with its imperialist past, the West can help end the chaos it has induced in the collective psyche of its former colonies.
Many Western cineastes like Paul Schrader who swear by the three-act narrative structure have declared that cinema is either dead or dying. However, Martin knows better. Cinema needs not be bound to Apollonian linearity. The British film critic Mark Cousins once referred to the more adventurous and less rule-bound filmmakers as a Dionysian “wild bunch”. Then Raya Martin might be described as the Mephistopheles of the Filipino New Wave, one who invites those Faustian traditionalists everywhere on a wild cinematic ride that transcends space, time, form, and narrative.