There are possibly two immediate statements that can be made about Filipino director Lav Diaz’ film Batang West Side, which recently screened in competition at the 15th Singapore International Film Festival, and went on to win Best Film at the festival’s Silver Screen Awards. Firstly, its five-hour duration demonstrates an intriguing exercise in a new aesthetics for cinema in our region, and not merely in the Philippines. Secondly, the film is a subtle intersection of personal memory and history. The narrative seems to suggest that for a nation to confront how it has been complicit in creating its history, its people need to confront their collective past. If this is in many ways at the core of Diaz’ film, then it presents urgent questions to both Filipinos and those of us who live elsewhere in Southeast Asia. It certainly begins to ask us how we perceive our collective identity and what we know of our history.
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