By: Jason Pilapil Jacobo
There is a scene in Kristian Sendon Cordero’s sophomore film “Hinulid” that emblematizes the predicament of mourning that the narrative seeks to work through in its iterations of how forlorn the human can be when abandoned permanently through that event: death. It is dusk in Iriga. Sita Dimaiwat (Nora Aunor) traverses the cemetery arch on which the Latin phrase “Via Omni Caris” is painted; the bodiless cannot trespass. Sepulchres are built not to hold the remains of the departed; the funerarium is such a place, because we are all alone, we fear ourselves also fading. Do not leave me just yet; here, a monument. Through a labyrinth of tombs fortified by cement and marble, Aunor blends in with the shades of a tropic crepuscule: ochre, as the waning sun; obsidian, like the cloak of night. When she finds her son Lucas (Jesus Mendoza) weeping before the tomb of his priest-guardian (Raffi Banzuela), she participates in a frame of grief: she sees the one she has yet to mourn for, mourning. That the rhythms of sorrow commingle in this instance points to the opportunity where the film locates the time where one is entitled to grieve---memory, that interregnum in the mind where one labors too hard to come to terms with passage: what has gone is not only lost; it is foregone to be found as missing. Even when the injury is not total, the site of ruin tells us: here lies all the hurt, every inch speaks of an insufferable damage. So, one asks: Did it happen? Was he here? Were all of it true? The act of yearning is that moment of provenance.
Cordero is most anxious to pursue this cusp of thought that he conjures the testimony through a mode of retrieval that reduces the quadrant of interpretive possibilities someone like Dante Alighieri has offered to a mere if not a modest proposal. The mourning is grounded in a cosmogonic myth of how galactic light is split into maternal brilliance and cherubic luminosity and how the earth registers this scission upon a meteorite isle where fireflies surrender their final blaze. This autochthonous basis is inlaid with a colonial narrative of christological interment: the Messiah is dead, yes, but thrice, as a statuary of identical eburnean figures clothed in vermilion radiance and encased in cuboid glass. The triplication is a mnemonic to refuse the telos of a sorrowful mystery, much like the melismatic ululations of the folk which decorate elegiac enjambments of the Pasyon quintilla, preventing the lyric from punctuating itself quite predictably, in sheer loneliness. It has to be said that while this aspect of colonial idiom is now read as an act of sufferance and revolution, what remains to be articulated is how dolorous maternity intervenes in activating intransigence. Sita in "Hinulid" could have fulfilled that post-passional reading.
It is quite strange that while it is Sita who is portrayed as sorrowful, the dolefulness is not demonstrated according to her lamentational terms. Instead, the agony is projected upon her through this Christ thrice interred. This puts into question the memory that her consciousness is supposed to verify as the truth of her mourning. Sita needs to mourn a dead son thrice: as child, adolescent, man. What is amplified by this triplication? I’m trying to remember Nora’s face through the three hours of Cordero’s Rinconada mock epic and for the first time, after all those years, Aunor registers vacancy. There is magnification, yes. Mourning becomes Nora, and thrice so. And yet, each time this is staged, in distinction or in simultaneity, the dolour, because of the imposition, is not pithy.
This peculiar Santo Entierro will only make sense if its triplication can be argued to originate from the Mater Dolorosa herself, and in a relation of correspondence that is less reaction than receipt. The peculiarity of this Pieta must also be mariologically immanent. If Christ could die thrice, of course, Mary should mourn in the same time signature. However, the cinema of “Hinulid” must elaborate how dolorous maternity is thrice possible from a Marian perspective. After all, the narrative is told by Sita, not by her son dying through three ages.
Fray Marcos de Lisboa’s "Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol" defines “holid” as “recostar al niño en el regazo, o en la cuna.” To lay a child on one’s lap, or in his crib: these are acts of maternal nurturance. But this scene also makes sense as the Pieta inasmuch as it alludes to the Nativity. If Sita must inter her son thrice, it is because his death reminds her of the emptiness of her womb through his childhood, boyhood, youth. His death affirms the terminus of her being a woman. Hollowed out by loss, she embodies a desert longing. This must be Aunor’s late style thesis. My well of loneliness has been depleted. I am nothing. I have known all manner of fatigue. I was all womb before. Now, let me be his sepulchre.
Sita mourns the 1) body of her son: 2) the memory of the body she has reared; 3) and her own obsolescence, which she must remember and grieve in advance. Pace Blanchot, one is never present at one's own death. If his son has faded ahead of her, the hour of her own death looms large in solitariness. Nora's eyes are vacant to honor the imminence.
If one's mourning of the memory of the dearly departed can only be worked through intimately, the privacy of grief must not be reduced to the domestic. Memory is not stronger than justice. Memory is as strong as justice. If Cordero has written a screed against the capillaries of power through a matrix of institutions which plot the murder of its most thoughtful activists, then an autopsy of power must be demanded, perhaps not through the parabolic distensions of folklore, but within a critical ethnography similar to Nancy Scheper Hughes study on "death without weeping" among mothers in a Brazilian necropolis.