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Balikbayan #1

[…] Here, Enrique is clearly the figure of modern globalization, but from an “inverted” colonialist point of view. Enrique’s path is that of a colonized man toward the colonizer’s world and back again; a global path that draws a literal “reflection” on colonization.

[…] «Balikbayan» opens up an unusual time: a circular one, with multiple endings, in which the past and the new play the same cosmic game.

If the word “post-colonialism” has a meaning, this film is one of the best ways to exemplify it. After a masterclass with Werner Herzog in Munich, the Filipino Kidlat Tahimik started to film, realized the successful Perfumed Night (1977), and continued to film throughout his life with different means, from 16mm to the iPhone. From 38 years of material, he produced Balikbayan: literally “coming back home” or “homeland”. The autobiographical tale of an emigrant returning to his homeland in search of its ancient traditions, which are routed in a deep relationship between man and Nature, is intertwined with the story of Enrique of Malacca, the slave of Magellan who was probably the first man to circumnavigate the globe. Here, Enrique is clearly the figure of modern globalization, but from an “inverted” colonialist point of view. Enrique’s path is that of a colonized man toward the colonizer’s world and back again; a global path that draws a literal “reflection” on colonization. Already, in the XVI century, Enrique was a living reflection on colonization, and the first chance for post-colonial thought. It is a true discovery – for many people, I think – to know that the modern Philippine history is rooted on the figure of Enrique, and to know that its foundation is, from the beginning, colonial and post-colonial at the same time. Kidlat Tahimik plays himself in Balikbayan to embody this history today. He plays a serious game, as his filmic embodiment doesn’t concern only the Philippine traditions and past, but it is very much a contemporary performance. Throughout his life, Tahimik realizes a global colonial and post-colonial path in the film domain, like Enrique once did. So, Tahimik’s story and way of filming expresses the struggle against the last American colonizer of Philippines, who gave, or imposed, a cinematographical imagination for Filipinos – among other impositions. Even in his fierce engagement with the ancient Philippine traditions and with a stronger (at first glance, a bit hippie) relationship with nature, he shows how this engagement retains some elements of the American culture. The special mixture that surfaces speaks a strange (to us) new language that is particularly interesting, mainly in the style of narration: seemingly chaotic, rich in associations and metaphors, pondered and constructed, complex and light, militant and full of humor at the same time. Balikbayan opens up an unusual time: a circular one, with multiple endings, in which the past and the new play the same cosmic game. At the time of its premiere at the Stadtkino Basel, the film went far beyond the official end of the movie. Tahimik, who was present at the screening, “continued” the film experience through an exceptional live performance, which we were able to capture spontaneously.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore | Audio/Video: Ruth Baettig
First published: May 12, 2016

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