MOVIE REVIEW : 'Leaves' Probes Philippine Revolution

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nettie Wild's "A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution" offers a disturbing, comprehensive and illuminating survey of the enormous challenges facing Filipinos as they try to rebuild their country in the wake of the depravations of the Marcos dictatorship. It opens tonight at the Monica 4-Plex with a premiere to benefit the Empowerment Project and KPFK.

Wild, a Canadian, focuses on the leaders of the many political factions struggling to gain control of a country riddled with poverty. (She even speaks to members of the Sparrows, an urban terrorist group.) She is critical of President Corazon Aquino and especially her ties to the military and the landed gentry, asserting that they have compromised her allegiance to "People Power."

Yet Wild is fair-minded enough to let us come away with the overpowering feeling that anyone trying to lead the Philippines to a democratic, economically stable society is facing an almost impossible task. Wild also leaves the anti-American sentiments, especially those surrounding our huge military bases, to her various interviewees.

Clearly, Wild's favorite candidate for the task is handsome, charismatic Bernabe Buscayno, also known as Kummander Dante, the founder and ex-chief of the Communist New People's Army, the 20-year-old underground guerrilla group in the vanguard of resistance to Marcos (and blamed for the deaths of eight Americans in the last 13 months). Moving from resistance leader to aspiring politician--he was released by Aquino after years in prison--Buscayno seems a voice of reason but has a hard time being heard amid so many extremists.

On the extreme left is Father Frank Navaro, an underground guerrilla priest and a member of the military command for the NPA on the island of Mindanao. One of the film's several extraordinary sequences involves Father Frank presiding over a "People's Court" tribunal condemning a teen-age traitor to death.

Father Frank's opposite number is Jun Pala, the voice of the Alsa Masa ("From the People"), a disc jockey who between records promotes his anti-communist crusade on his two-hour, twice-a-day broadcasts; those he labels as subversive have a habit of turning up dead. Relishing the attention, Pala speaks gleefully of his admiration for Hitler and Goebbels.

The leftists, even a militant like Father Frank, come over as far more humane and selfless than the rightists, who are cold and pompous.

Serving as the film's conscience is the witty, philosophical Father Ed de la Torre, chief of the Institute for Popular Democracy in Manila. Would that Wild had identified all these men and others more clearly; in a film that carefully subtitles English-speaking people because of their accents it seems perverse not to print the name and titles of the film's key players upon their first appearance.

"A Rustling of Leaves" (Times-rated Mature) is by no means so many talking heads. Wild traverses the countryside as well as Manila, showing us considerable natural beauty along with the vast garbage dumps outside the capital where thousands of desperately poor people scavenge in order to survive. There is a raw immediacy to "A Rustling of Leaves" that is engaging and a thoughtfulness that causes us to consider for ourselves what the role of the United States in the destiny of the Philippines has been--and ought to be.

For premiere tickets and information: (213) 828-8807.

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