Genus Pan (2020)

Chronic fear and the threat of violence fuel one of Lav Diaz’s shortest efforts as we follow a trio of men trek through a jungle in this crisply-shot work that doesn’t quite accumulate enough power to truly leave an impact. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,098

Dir. Lav Diaz
2020 | Philippines | Drama | 150 mins | Tagalog
NC16 (passed clean) for some mature content

Cast: Nanding Josef, Bart Guingona, Don Melvin Boongaling
Plot: A look at how much human beings are like animals.
Awards: Won Best Director – Orrizonti (Venice)
International Sales: Sine Olivia Pilipinas

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Nature of violence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

This new work by Lav Diaz, one of his shortest efforts (at 150-ish minutes), is also surely one of his most accessible to date. 

The bulk of it works like a road movie, only that it is a trek through the jungle in some part of the Philippines.  We follow a trio of men (one junior and two seniors working for a local mining company) as they return to their home village for a much-needed break to see their families. 

Shot in crisp black-and-white, Genus Pan is an exploration of the animalistic nature of Man—a reference to chimpanzees as heard from a radio broadcast gives it its title—as Diaz pits the trio, with varying temperaments and attitudes toward each other, and to the land that they have grown accustomed to (or detached from) over the decades. 

There is a threat of violence which may spring anytime as a chronic sense of fear pervades the land—and minds—through decades-old cautionary myths, wanton assertions of power, and mysterious extrajudicial murders.  That being said, Genus Pan never quite accumulates enough power to truly leave an impact. 

Perhaps it is Diaz’s slow, poetic style that sometimes feels too deliberately constructed, like an outdoor theatre; or the performances of the main and supporting cast that don’t quite bring us into their world or headspace. 

There is some kind of indictment on men’s penchant for exploitation of other men (for labour and money) and women (for sex and the legitimisation of violence), but Diaz doesn’t quite dive deep into it. 

Grade: B


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