The winding tracks that carry the histories of human toil, perspiration and sorrow - that is what a film called Ex Press by the Philippine director Jet Leyco has to offer in the 12th Osians Festival. With an audience that has familiarised itself with films like The Train, Leyco’s film keeps the direct history of the country in the background.
With the interspersing of the monochromes with colour, the voice of the train and the angst of the rebels emerging, the monologues punctured by the history of Philippines divided and diminished. For Ex Press, the long and lengthy narrations are a shortcoming. The dialogues are digressive and the individual narrations are insipid.
One voice that constantly repeats in Ex Press is the voice of an unknown passenger: ‘They killed my father, mother got abducted, sister raped. I don’t know where I am.' The travelers in the stranded train are both the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes. As the movie progresses, we find people on both sides of the tracks with stones in their hands waiting for the train to arrive.
Every journey as Leyco’s camera portrays with its jump cuts and far-sighted shots, is the one of expectation. Reaching the destination is a myth. The workers whom we see in the first shot of the film have no history of their own; but the station master has, as does the person who reveals the story about his father who served the rail army. In the intervals between the journey, we have color frames where children throw stones at the stranded engine thinking one day they would be army men. The film has both an existential quest as well as the depression of history. If the train doesn’t move fast, memories would haunt you.
Jean–Claude Codsi’s A Man of Honor challenges the code of honour in the Lebanese community by highlighting the valour of a man, Brahim. His duplicitous strategies make him suppress his passion toward his wife more than twenty years till he meets her before her death in the hospital. Leila, for whom Brahim protects turns out to be the rebirth of a new life as the life of her daughter and Brahim’s son seek new meanings as cousins. The succinctly planned out plot of the film raises a number of questions regarding the morals and precepts of the Arab community. But with respect to the lives portrayed, particularly by the mechanics who run the big garages and the systems which rule them, the movie still needs to offer many things. It seems that at the outset the movie is more structured around the lives of the father Brahim and his son, who lives thinking that his father is dead some twenty years ago. Brahim’s meeting with his dying wife in the hospital and the subsequent drama unleashed has more sub-plots in it, not revealed. At every step, the code of honor is projected by the trenchant attitude of elders and the practitioners of religion by their dances and rhythms.
Codsi’s film, needless to say has its elements taken from a fixed story that revolves around one family. At the same time, except certain long shots comprising the desert and the distant well-carved mountains, the micro-histories of the code of honor that should have been a major subject are not treated in the film with perception. The man’s honor here is the individual choice; not the community’s. This is where this film departs from the intricate texts of the community consciousness when we look at the honour killings in Pakistan and in India.
After watching these two interesting, yet doubtful and painful narratives, one may wonder how in Leyco’s film we didn’t have a prominent female voice. If one thinks that women speak more in Codsi’s film, you are wrong. There also the honor code is predicated on man’s sentiments. The viewers eagerly look for more female narratives that can both be alternate and articulate texts in the Osians.
Krishnan Unni. P teaches English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University.