D: Adolf Alix Jr.
S: Jacky Woo, Mercedes Cabral
There is an air of mystique that wraps itself around stories passed on through word of mouth that makes Philippine folklore so rich and magical. Concealed within the shadows of the countryside, these accounts, myths, and ghost stories never fail to mystify any ear with a penchant for such things. Adolf Alix Jr.’s Liberacion is such a tale. It is a ghost story seemingly plucked out from an era that sparked an abundance of them.
Set at the very end of the Japanese occupation, the film follows a group of tortured soldiers searching for truth and solace in a foreign land. A Japanese soldier, Makoto (Jacky Woo), leads what’s left of his team through a long and winding tunnel, their escape route leading out to the shrouded expanse of the woods.
In the beginning there is the slow and teasing drip of water inside the cave. Then, there is the darkness, occasionally illuminated by the small glow of their lamps. The soldiers almost blindly follow their leader into whatever end, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. From there, they’re spit out into the wilderness and are left to endure battles more gruesome than what they were asked to fight.
Alix’s forest is a hell of trees and rocks where tired souls are further tortured. The troop’s journey is exhausting, a slow drag made more agonizing by the jittery unsureness of the space and silence around them than by the hardships inflicted by man and nature. Minutes pass and we witness one man’s slow descent to madness, not in the pyscho-horror sense of the word but in an unnervingly fatalistic one. Makoto treads the thin line between reality and fantasy as he burrows in his conviction and dedication to his duty as a defender of his country, refusing to acknowledge the fact that Japan has been defeated in the second World War until his own general hands him the retreat order.
The line blurs as the years wear on, etching lines on his face and piling an even heavier burden in his soul. But with the appearance of an almost nymph-like lady of the forest (Mercedes Cabral), Liberacion strangely turns towards the fantastic—a jungle fever dream that blends history and the history we know through backyard tales of old, tellingly depicting our impulses, perceptions, and desires.