Ars Colonia (2011)
Ars Colonia is a one-minute film by Raya Martin submitted for International Film Festival Rotterdam 2011 supported by Hubert Bals Fund. Raya Martin, one of the leading experimental filmmakers has a piquant style on long takes, the use of the video medium and stylized mise-en-scene. Ars Colonia, shot in Hi-8 camera and blown up in 35 mm, is obviously a visual film since its central rhetoric is based on images. It is an abstract film by all facets because it offers new ways of seeing things.
The technique of coloring a 35-mm celluloid is quite old. It has been used several times by many experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage in his Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961) [wiki] and J. J. Murphy's Print Generation (1973-74). Possibly, the origin of this style is the strong influence of Brakhage to Raya. The icons used in the film have strong alignment to Martin's historical mode of filmmaking which he started with Maicling Pelicula ng Indio Nacional (2005). In an attempt to draw the lost years of Philippine Cinema's silent era, he made a series of films that ascribe to silent film aesthetics; with Independencia (2009) as the most faithful to tableau staging and mise-en-scene.
With Ars Colonia he forges a new way to look at historical elements. Let us do a rough close analysis of these elements.
Frame by Frame
We are initially drawn to this man wearing a metal cap, possibly a soldier. The mise-en-scene is instantly displayed and we can infer by intuition that this is a man walking in sea water with islands around him. The film is shot in sepia tone using Hi-8 camera and blown-up and fast-forwarded in celluloid set in 'lomo' conditions. In its monotonal look, Martin transforms it into an highly stylized visual display.
On the above three screenshots, an observable change in the color of the sky from yellow to orange to read. The color of the sea remains dark blue. This suggest Martin's motivation in color and spatial differences. As we know, abstract films are motivated by form more than narrative. The offer new visions of old mise-en-scene. As with this one, Martin explores colors of the sky, using a pen-marker he etched it and somehow its speed is increase. It can be politically motivated, at one level wherein colors are used to indicate symbolic associations as with red to socialism or communism and yellow to the Aquino government. These associations can be results of over-interpretation, a hermeneutic limitation among us humans to judge visual cues based on personal biases and prejudices. However, this is not a discouraged path to take. This is often a result of our process of meaning-making out of these signs-and-symbols.
As with the above screenshots, there is an intent on exploring new ways to look at the island. The island transgresses from an ordinary-looking island with false-colored sky surrounded by murky blue water into bounded color-gradients with hints of its size and shape. This is the destruction of the concept of island in Ars Colonia. A cinematic moment called the death of subject wherein its concept metamorphose into other forms. As in the next shots, the island transforms into non-rigid color-effects similar to fireworks and explosions in the battlefield. The death of the subject is, of course, a postmodern bent which can be traced to Jean-Luc Godard's Un Femme est Une Femme (1961) and many other experiments in form.
Ars Colonia comes not from the surrealism trend which can be traced from Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1945), Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou (1929) but this can be traced from the works of Jackson Pollock, Ed Munch and many other abstract expressionists only that the expressionism in Ars Colonia is portrayed in 35-mm. The method of coloring the celluloid is historically motivated by these arts trends.
Lodging away from these aestheticism, we can infer so many allusions from the film. Questions like, is the island representative of the Philippines? Is the film about the death of the concept of being Filipino? What other hermeneutic lines can be drawn? Infinitely, we infer, ask and imply many associational aspects from the film. It offers numerous non-point concepts making it one good example of a postmodern film.