In Nantes, the filmmaker Mike De Leon, portraitist of Filipino society under the dictatorship

The 44e edition of the Festival des 3 continents presents, until November 27, in Nantes, the first world retrospective of Filipino filmmaker Mike De Leon. Born in 1947, this great formalist and remarkable director of actors, attentive to the social and political reality of his country, had, until now, gone unnoticed abroad… erased by the mythical Lino Brocka (1939-1991) , which leaves behind splendid melodramatic crossings of the capital’s slums (Manila, 1975, and Insiang, 1976). Beyond his talent, Brocka acquired international fame for having been imprisoned for excessive militancy and found dead in a car accident.

The Nantes event is accompanied by the publication of Last Look Back (self-published, 600 pages, untranslated), the voluminous memoirs in two volumes by Mike De Leon. Preceding the French release of five of his feature films and a Blu-ray and DVD edition at the initiative of Carlotta Films in March 2023, it highlights an important part of the heritage of Filipino cinema through the work of this child of the ball. His grandmother, Narcisa De Leon (1877-1966), co-founder of LVN Pictures (1938-2005), one of the most important studios in the country, of which she quickly became the sole director, produced, in the years 1950, two to three blockbusters a month. Inspired by this figure “respected, feared, loved”, Mike De Leon created, at the age of 28, his own company, Cinema Artists Philippines, with which he produced Lino Brocka’s masterpiece, Manila, of which he is also the chief operator.

Tormented by the seizure of power by the couple Ferdinand and Imelda Marcoswhich imposed, from 1972 to 1981, a martial law and a dictatorship, Mike De Leon worked to make films to describe from all possible angles the mechanisms of confinement in which Philippine society found itself, with a obsession that can be found today in filmmaker Lav Diaz. “Mike De Leon’s ability to evolve from one genre to another has allowed him to look at this alienation through different scales: family, love, student, professional”observes Jérôme Baron, the artistic director of the festival.

Satire of religion

His filmography is thus made up of a first foray into horror cinema (Item1976), a melodrama (It was a dream1977), a parody of a spy film (Thrill?1980), psychological dramas (Kisapmata, 1981, and Batch’811982), a dystopia (Aliwan Paradise1992, short film), a mockumentary (third world hero, 1999) and a political thriller (CitizenJake, 2018). Only Sister Stella L. (1984), written by the screenwriter of Bayan Koby Lino Brocka, released the same year on the similar theme of workers’ revolt, dispenses with the genre to rub shoulders with social realism.

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