Competing in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Adolfo Alix Junior’s ‘Death March’ tells the story of the Bataan Death March.
This harrowing example of man’s cruelty to man occurred in April 1942, when 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of the Japanese army, were forced to slog over 100 kilometres in five days, during the hottest season of the year, and with almost no food or water.
It was called a death march for a simple reason: if you stopped, you were killed. But there were many other ways to die in what was essentially a spree of arbitrary brutality. For sport, Japanese soldiers fractured skulls with their rifle butts. Japanese tanks ran over men who fell. Good Samaritans who tried to help fallen comrades were beaten or stabbed. Men were forced to bury others alive.
And Adolfo Alix Junior does not shy away from painting this bleakest of pictures.
Shot against hand-painted backdrops, with visceral close-ups of the actors’ faces, ‘Death March’ will be up against the likes of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring’ at Cannes this year.
For Alix Jr, whilst the film’s nomination is a great success, he is equally excited about the wave of recognition for Filipino productions in general: “What is important is you will be able to bring your film to a very good festival, so everything else is just a bonus. What is important for us now is to show that there is a movement that is coming from the Philippines, because in the past six years there have been a lot of Filipino films that have been screened in different festivals and we get a lot of good reviews.”
Contrasting starkly with the celebratory opulence of Cannes’ famous red carpet, ‘Death March’ is set to wow audiences at the festival…albeit in a very different way.