Around the world as an indigenous: A review of Kidlat’s Memories of Overdevelopment

By IVAN LABAYNE
www.nordis.net

In a time when getting lost – in the seemingly seamless, borderless world of the Internet, in the supermarket fattened with ‘endless’ choices for the consumer, in the world of romance only to be ‘found’ by The One – appears to be hip, is there still value in knowing one’s place, one’s origin and then of always getting back to this place in the course of life?

Kidlat Tahimik’s Memories of Overdevelopment: A Film in Progress, a film I saw with about twenty others at the Baguio Cinematheque on March 23, gives an affirmative response to this question, and a resounding and crunchy affirmation at that. The film tells the story of Enrique de Malacca, the first person to circumnavigate the world, Balikbayan #1. From his native village in the Cordilleras, Enrique became “one of the first immigrant workers in Europe” and then a slave/companion of Magellan as he voyaged in search of the new world and then back home, a free man again after his master’s death.

Circumnavigation–coming in full circle–is evidently a main theme of the film. Probing why so it can reveal to us a possibility about the worldview underlying and being propped up by the film.

Here’s your origin, come back!

What Enrique considered to be his ‘origin’ is his home, the native community in Ifugao that nurtured him growing up. His strides going back to his home were recurrently emphasized in the film. Returning to and holding onto this local origin was obviously important to Enrique. Despite his experiences in Europe and the prospect of freedom that had to emerge after becoming Magellan’s slave, home tantalized him the most. Alas, this was fulfilled in the course of the film, finally marked by the touting of Enrique as being the first person to circumnavigate the world.

Does this event not beautifully defy the current buzz surrounding the ‘loss of origins’; being in a “point of no return” and open-endedness; and ceaseless if not purposeless ambling about, which can all be associated with the postmodern period of hyperreality and globalization? Via Enrique, Tahimik seems to be spitting at these buzzwords and their sick endorsements: not being grounded in one’s history, culture and locality and instead floating away in the world of images and gigabytes.

Aside from actualizing the circumnavigation and embodying the values associated with it, the character of Enrique is significant for another reason. Notably, there were two ‘Enriques’ in the film: aside from Enrique-the-slave-of-Magellan of the old time, there was contemporary Enrique looking for a man he once saved at the beach. What does this mean? Are these two ‘Enriques’ the same? Is this a suggestion of reincarnation (in one scene in the film, two women were talking about reincarnation)? We cannot tell for sure. What I can more confidently assert though is that the appearance of a contemporary Enrique squares with what underpins the film: a kind of cycle at work and a cosmic balance that enables it. Notably, this content of the film has a marvelous parallel in terms of the film’s production, which Tahimik mentions himself in a short talk after the screening of the film.

Different but still the same

In the short discussion with Tahimik after the first screening, he recalled one ‘dilemma’ of continuing the project which he started in 1979. The original actor for the character of Magellan, George Streinberg had to be replaced by one of Tahimik’s sons after the death of the former. In the short discussion, Tahimik mentioned how this move would have surely earned a down vote in Hollywood standards. But he has already mentioned how his technique does not care about such standards, about “what sells”, which the big-time producers look after. At this point, the uncanny, if not lovely parallelism enters. The forced move to change the actor for the character of Magellan – from Steinberg to Kawayan de Guia, and its welcoming as a technical departure from Hollywood formula can also bring into mind what the film was telling us about. Much as the actors Steinberg and de Guia are essentially the same Magellan character in the film’s universe, so are the two ‘Enriques’ – Magellan’s slave and the contemporary one, it can be argued. As one female character in Richard Linklater’s 2001 animated film “Waking Life” said about the relationship between our present selves and our ‘old’ selves; say, who we were when we were eight or fourteen years old; the two are different but “quintessentially the same.”

In the end, this film by Tahimik unabashedly reflects the worldview of its creator. His faithful submission to Kabunian, as one can sense again from his short talk after the screening, and his belief in the harmony of the cosmos inform the story of Enrique and his circumnavigation of the world. It does so without entirely sidestepping the politics of the colonization – for the film was not mute on the death of Magellan after Lapu-Lapu and his confreres, instead of getting lured by the former’s golden wealth, seemed to have sensed a negative omen that comes with it. But opting not to treat this, the European colonizing project, as the film’s centerpiece, and instead as mere background for Enrique’s journey, does not count as the film’s foible. After all, a lot of things have been made about that. What can be seen in Tahimik’s Memories of Overdevelopment, is something more solemn and personal, but no less political. After all, the affirmation of an indigenous worldview can be seen as a maneuver, however little, against a long-standing and systematic approach to subtly wipe away the indigenous that is arguably more rooted and connected not just to a political community (i.e. the Philippine nation) but more vitally, to the cosmos. # nordis.net

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