One night, in the peaceful town of Matangtubig, Batangas, local fisherman Homil Ricarte (Amante Pulido) witnessed a scene at the bridge: two teenage female students were offered an escort home by a group of men. The students refused, but the men insisted. The students agreed in the end. What Homil witnessed has become the first crime ever recorded in the town – a rape-murder and a missing person case.
Town in a Lake swings between extreme contradictions. A peaceful town was suddenly got shocked by the crime, just as when they are preparing for the town feast. The town which would have stood still on ordinary days, suddenly moved, but not because of the feast preparations. No one is prepared. The event is so alien that no one knows what to do at first. On the other side of the swing are actual visitors, the media representatives, who have taken an interest to the first crime ever happened in the town. But unlike the policemen or the townsfolk, for the media, it’s just their usual day of covering stories. The intersection between the funeral march of one of the victims and the parade for the feast just shows how confusing the event was to the town that it left them in bipolar extremes in their reactions.
Revelations after revelations, the film takes us towards unlikely confrontations. However, not everything’s within our expectation. The confrontation near the conclusion, when Homil and the perpetrators meet along with two other witnesses does not really satisfy the need for justice, but the film is about something else other than the crime. The gist of the criminal’s justification was that the crime was meant to create a ripple in the quiet town – to finally make things move. In a grander sense, to forward humanity and history. In a sense, the criminals of Lav Diaz’ films act similarly, albeit only in the scope of Raskolnikov’s conception of individuality. For Town in a Lake, it is closer to an accelerationist argument: a crime which meant not just to raise one’s individual stature, but in the spirit of total development in the speed of light.
Jet Leyco treated his previous film Leave It for Tomorrow, for Night Has Fallen (2013) with the same manner of consciousness: the alternative history, which he presented through science fiction, is the material realities and politics which was affected by the movements. Leave It for Tomorrow and Town in a Lake are both about what would happen to the ones left behind after all these. Both films also take on the case of the desaparecidos, political activists, militant workers and farmers who have never resurfaced after they were taken in by the military or the police enacting state-sponsored counter-insurgency campaigns. The campaigns, which have resulted in the growing number of desaparecidos are similarly justified as the crimes in Matangtubig, in that they prompt order and development.
The extremities of the events in the film do not merely cause a ripple. Like extreme changes in the weather, they cause a storm. This storm reveals all that are in opposition in the open in its aftermath, a metaphor which is not alien to the progressive movements in the Philippines.
Town in a Lake, with its different level of creativity and complexity while taking on a discourse of a sensitive nature, shows higher level of commitment to politics than most films of Leyco’s contemporaries. While admittedly, it might not appeal universally because of the particularity on the subject matter, it never betrays to whom it cares for. The case of the two victims were set aside in the narrative for a while not to highlight the criminals’ post-humanist flares, but to depict the criminals – in extension, the actual violators: the state, police, and military – in their unmasked sense as corrupt individuals. The confrontation at the end does not end with a definite closure, but rather with athe unfolding of another event, thereby showing the continuation of history and its antagonisms even after a new order has been established following the storm.
Town in a Lake is showing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival on Thursday July 6 at the Walter Reade Theater at 8:50pm. Tickets can be purchased from the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.