‘About monsters of Philippine politics’: Mike De Leon airs thoughts on ‘Itim’ Cannes screening

May 20, 2022 - 4:42 PM
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This composite photo shows Mike de Leon on the set of "Citizen Jake" and the poster of "Itim." (Facebook/Citizen Jake; Philstar.com/File)

“It is still appropriate, but Horror has now acquired a more sinister meaning.”

Veteran filmmaker Mike De Leon said this in a statement as his first feature film is once again being screened internationally 43 years later.

Itim,” which was voted by Gawad Urian as one of the best ’70s films, is screening at the prestigious 75th Cannes Film Festival among the “Restoration World Premieres” under its “Cannes Classics” category.

The “Cannes Classics” is a sidebar of the festival which spotlights restored classic films and films previously thought lost. It also encourages people to explore the history of cinema around the world.

The event also marks the international premiere of “Itim’s” restored version released this year as it joins other classics from different countries.

The renowned film festival is running from May 17 to 28 in France.

READ: Cannes Film Festival rolls out red carpet as crowds descend for 75th anniversary

“Itim” is a 107-minute esoteric psychological drama that stars Charo SantosTommy Abuel, Mario Montenegro, Susan Valdez and Mona Lisa, among others.

Below is its synopsis on Cannes’ website:

Jun, a young photographer living in Manilla, decides to return to his native town to visit his father, a retired doctor who became paralyzed after a car accident. During his visit, he decides to do a photo documentary on the locals’ Holy Week rites. He meets the mysterious Teresa, and while they’re becoming quick friends, she slowly starts to open up about her sister, Rosa, who’s recently died. Her presence still haunts Teresa.

Seventy-four-year-old De Leon wouldn’t be able to attend the event in Europe but he is represented by his co-screenwriter, New York-based Gil Quito.

Film distributor Carlotta Films on Friday shared a statement of the director that was sent to them and read before the screening of “Itim.”

“The title of the section that I read is Surreal Mix of Horror and Politics. It is still appropriate, but Horror has now acquired a more sinister meaning,” De Leon said.

“It is no longer about a ghost but about the monsters of Philippine politics, monsters that, after a long wait in the subterranean caverns of hell, have returned to ravish and rape my country all over again. The crazy thing is that we invited them back,” he added.

“Our constitution constrains me to recognize our newly elected leaders, but morally, I can never give my trust to people who are nothing more than the basest of criminals. I am happy that my film is participating in this great festival, but I feel utterly humiliated to be a Filipino today. Nevertheless, I hope you appreciate the film,” De Leon added.

Eventful first screening

“Itim” was first internationally screened in 1979 in Los Angeles.

Based on De Leon’s statement, he was asked by the largely American audience if the government at that time was doing anything to support such films.

During that period, the Philippines was under its eighth year of Martial Law as implemented by the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. 

“I was young and had an attitude. I said that the government’s sole commitment to filmmaking was documenting the daily existence of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. I didn’t realize that officers of the Philippine Consulate were in the audience. One of them told my cousin, ‘We didn’t know Mike was an activist.’ I wasn’t. I was just being a smartass,” De Leon narrated in the statement.

“For this flippant remark, my passport was ordered pulled by a respected columnist-turned-rabid Marcos apologist. I didn’t know about it until I planned to attend the Locarno International Film Festival the following year, where my second film was programmed. This journalist warned me not to even try leaving the country because I would be stopped,” he continued.

De Leon added that he was made to appear before the Board of Censors where he had to bluff by saying that he was taken out of context during the screening.

“After all, ITIM wasn’t remotely a political film; it was a ghost story. Like my overnight detention by the Marcos-controlled military in 1972, the whole affair was intended to intimidate me. It was made clear that nobody had any right to criticize the reigning couple, not even in jest. So I was made to apologize to this panel of government bureaucrats puffed up with undeserved power,” the director said.

Several years later, Marcos Sr’s only son and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, is now the presumptive president-elect after garnering the most number of votes so far in the 2022 election’s unofficial count.