Review: Genus Pan (Lahi, Hayop)

Written and directed by Lav Diaz, three miners flee industrial exploitation on a homebound journey that takes them deep into their country’s primal traumas. Starring: Nanding Josef, Bart Guingona, Don Melvin Boongaling, Hazel Orencio, Noel Sto. Domingo and Joel Saracho.

Diaz is a filmmaker known for having no boundaries when it comes to the lengths of his films, ranging all the way up to nine hours, with this film surprisingly being one of his shortest at 150-minutes. Arguably you could say it makes this film his most accessible but realistically, his films are still for a very specific type of viewer because he works with slow cinema and it’s extremely minimalist to the point that it likely won’t work for most viewers and for good reason. This form of cinema may be intended to show humanity for what it is in a bare fashion without distracting from their behaviour by keeping the shots entirely static and cutting as little as possible but it’s also completely unnecessary in cinema today.

It’s purposefully painstaking watching, it’s too simplistic having overly extended scenes with zero camera movement, meaning that it’s often too far from the characters or not ideally placed to capture the entirety of their conversations and consequent expressions. With so many technical advances, while keeping things simpler can play as refreshing against a barrage of CGI and excessive editing, it’s also a waste to not use the wealth of available resources to inject your film with personality and style, it automatically does your film a disservice. Similarly the cinematography is hugely restricted by its black and white visual, it’s frustrating to be aware of the vibrant, rich colour that the locations used would likely have provided and not getting to experience it.

Moving to the story itself, it is actually a great basis to observe the darker, selfish and savage side of human behaviour that can result out of anger and desperation but the timing of its story progression cuts off a lot of its potential. Firstly, it’s a rather jarring sequence of events, it builds to a significant dramatic moment but strangely spends so little time on it that it leaves you puzzled to figure out entirely what happened while it’s busy running off in another direction. Secondly, there was a real opportunity to build tension and suspense to push forward the story but clearly Diaz’s simplistic style doesn’t allow for devices to effectively introduce those elements, they only have the choice to occur naturally and while to some extent that does happen, it’s not strong enough. However, part of the problem is the acting, it’s a very mixed bag, there are plenty of moments where it feels perfectly authentic but in more physical or emotional scenes it becomes over the top and unconvincing.

Genus Pan has a poignant tale of corruption, greed and envy but it’s too weighed down by the film’s choice of style to provide an effective and impactful story. Following the slow cinema genre, it doesn’t have the tools to build a sufficient atmosphere or the tension and suspense that its story so desperately craves. Making a film such as this in 2020 immediately and unnecessarily alienates a huge portion of viewers, it takes the idea of stepping back from the flash of Hollywood to such an extreme that it’s harmful to its impact. It’s simply a story that feels as though it doesn’t want or care for you to get invested in where it’s going and yet still makes you work for it.

Verdict: ✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival –
Awaiting UK release date

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