MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A film that weaves together stories of the anguish and desperation of American and Filipino soldiers during the notorious Bataan Death March could have been shot on location in a large-scale production.
Filipino director Borinaga Alix Jr. instead chose to film "Death March" in black-and-white and almost entirely inside a studio using hand-painted backdrops, with close-ups of actors' painted faces portraying their struggles with nightmares and hallucinations in one of the bloodiest episodes of World War II.
"Death March" is competing against 17 other movies at the Cannes Film Festival that opens Wednesday, including Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," French director Claire Denis' "Les Salauds" and fellow Filipino director Lav Diaz's "Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan." The entries were made in the category for art house and experimental films.
Some 70,000 starving, sick, and exhausted American and Filipino prisoners of the Japanese Imperial Army marched under a brutal sun for five days in April 1942, covering 105 kilometers (65 miles) from the Bataan peninsula to a prison camp in Tarlac province. Survivors told stories of atrocities, with many of the prisoners stabbed or decapitated by their Japanese captors if they so much as stopped to drink water or collapsed to the ground. Thousands died from illness or exhaustion.
After reading the script by Rody Vera, Alix said he was struck by the war's emotional and psychological effect on soldiers.
"It felt like they were sleep walking their nightmares," Alix said in an interview. He said he wanted to highlight how the event shaped the soldiers' psyche.
Instead of the initial plan to go on location, he consulted the production designer and decided "to shoot in a controlled environment where all the elements were synthetic, except the actors, to heighten the surreal feeling of the film."
The multi-character movie stars Filipino actors Sid Lucero as a Filipino soldier who fights to stay sane after his friend is shot in front of him, and Filipino-American actor Sam Milby as an American soldier taking care of his sick captain but also thinking of ways to escape from the Japanese.
Other Filipino actors whose stories converge in the film are Zanjoe Marudo, Jason Abalos, Carlo Aquino and Felix Roco.