In this essay, I shall use the concepts of abjection and cosmopolitanism to analyse Khavn de la Cruz's Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between A Criminal and A Whore (Philippines/Germany, 2014). arguing that the film critiques contemporary neoliberalism, as well as the central role that cinema plays in its globalisation. More than this, I shall show how Khavn's film also helps us to question and to refine our understanding of abjection and cosmopolitanism, in particular as these concepts have been used in combination --with political theorists using 'abject cosmopolitanism' as a framework to think about the role and condition of migrants and migration in the contemporary world (Nyers 2003). For, as we shall see, Khavn's film, or what the director himself would call a non-film, conscientiously embraces abjection both in terms of content and in terms of form, meaning that Ruined Heart constitutes a cinematic form of 'conscientious abjection.' Khavn's conscientious abjection is not carried out simply to offend, but also to reflect the abject/excluded nature of (much of) the Philippines in the contemporary neoliberal world. Furthermore, if Khavn is something of an abjectly cosmopolitan filmmaker whose chaotic punk aesthetic challenges much of the more "properly" cosmopolitan filmmaking that traverses the world on the festival circuit, then perhaps he is not so much cosmopolitan as 'chaosmopolitan.' Drawing upon recent cosmopolitan theory, especially as it has been applied to film (see Rovisco 2013; Deleyto 2016), we shall also see how Ruined Heart is not uniquely about the establishment and crossing of spatial borders (which is the remit of cosmopolitanism), but that it is also about openness to different temporalities and rhythms (which I shall propose is key to chaosmopolitanism). That is, Khavn's film formally adopts digital technology in order to challenge cinema's own openness to other places and times, hence the director's claim that Ruined Heart is, like his other movies, paradoxically 'not a film.' In this way. I shall demonstrate how the novel concepts of conscientious abjection and chaosmopolitanism can help us to understand Ruined Heart both as a reflection of contemporary life in the Philippines and as a reflection of the political role that cinema plays in the contemporary world. Finally. I shall also demonstrate how Ruined Heart itself offers a devastating portrayal of the effects of historical colonialism and contemporary neoliberalism. First, though, let us introduce Khavn de la Cruz and the context in which he works.
This is not a film
Since the early 2000s, Khavn de la Cruz has been prolific in making movies in his native Philippines, regularly working with digital technology, non-professional actors and low-budgets, creating work that straddles fiction, documentary, experimental cinema and the essay-film. He has received nominations and awards at festivals as diverse as the Berlin International Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, CPH:DOX, the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival and the Cinemanila International Film Festival. Perhaps best known among his films are the documentary Iskwaterpangk/Squatterpunk (Philipppines, 2007) and the fiction film Mondomanila: Kung paano ko inayos ang buhok ko matapos ang mahaba-haba ring paglalakbay/Mondomanila: Or How I Fixed My Hair After a Rather Long Journey (Philippines/Germany, 2010).
As might be hinted by the improbably long title of the latter film, Khavn deliberately challenges the norms and expectations of conventional cinema, regularly creating films with little to no dialogue and which feature prominent punk soundtracks, often written and composed by Khavn himself (and sometimes performed by the Brockas, a band named after Lino Brocka and which features Khavn and fellow Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz). Khavn works quickly--the Internet Movie Database lists 26 features and 19 shorts since 2004, although there are various films not listed on the site that he has directed--and he also works specifically with digital technology to create his films. Indeed, in various of his writings and manifestos, Khavn evangelizes about being 'filmless' and about how digital film is significantly cheaper than celluloid film (see Baumgartel 2012: 119-124). It is for this reason that Khavn called one of his production companies Filmless Films, while also announcing before the majority of his works that 'this is not a film by Khavn de la Cruz.'
However, while Khavn adopts a 'punk' aesthetic that regularly features shocking imagery and stories (Squatterpunk is about street urchins in Manila while Mondomanila follows a gang in its struggles against an American paedophile), his aim is not simply to shock. Rather, there is a political component to Khavn's films that is indeed linked to their digital nature. In his own words: '[d]igital film, with its qualities of mobility, flexibility, intimacy, and accessibility, is the apt medium for a Third World Country like the Philippines' (see Baumgartel 2012: 123). By situating his own practice within a geopolitical context ('Third World Country'), Khavn clearly links digital filmmaking with histories of colonialism and imperialism that have divided the world into at least two (First and Third) parts. What is more, Khavn's paradoxical claim not to be making films also links to this political dimension of his work. For, Khavn's unconventional approach to him--working at speed, adopting a rough-and-ready digital aesthetic characterized regularly by rapid editing and handheld camera work--ties in with his repeated aim to represent that which is not typically represented in mainstream cinema, be that from Hollywood, the Philippines itself, or elsewhere. That is, working often with non-professionals who live in the slums of Metro Manila. Khavn shows the poor and the overlooked of Philippine society, defiantly cocking a snook at the fantasies of the mainstream, bourgeois cinema and the niceties of its easy-to-follow aesthetic.
In this way, the content of Khavn's films is matched by a politicised and digital form that does not just engage with showing us a different reality (Manila's slums), but which also does work to address the way in which cinema itself plays a key role in shaping our perceptions of reality, with that which is 'fit' for cinema being considered more real than that which typically does not feature in film. As a result, Khavn deliberately creates a form of what I have elsewhere called 'non-cinema' (see Brown 2016; 2018) as part of the struggle against bourgeois society and what Jonathan Beller might define as its cinematic values and mode of production (Beller 2006). Perhaps it is small wonder that Beller, too, has been attracted to Khavn's work and written extensively about him. suggesting that Squatterpunk constitutes a defiant 'aesthetics of survival' in the face of the image-driven 'advertisarial' logic of contemporary global capital, or what I shall here term neoliberalism (Beller 2013: 47-49).
In some respects Ruined Heart signals a departure for Khavn. since it is his first film to feature internationally recognised stars, most notably Tadanobu Asano, a Japanese actor who has worked with various international auteurs like Nagisa Oshima (Gohatto. Japan/France/UK, 1999), Takashi Miike (Koroshiya I/Ichi the Killer, Japan, 2001). Hou Hsiao-hsien (Kdlu jiko/Cafe Lumiere, Japan/Taiwan. 2003), Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi, Japan. 2003) and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Ruang rak noi nid mahasanlLast Life in the Universe, Thailand/Japan/Netherlands, 2003. and Invisible Waves, Thailand/Netherands, 2006). while recently also appearing in various Hollywood films, including several iterations of the Disney and Marvel Thor franchise (Thor, Kenneth Branagh, USA. 2011: Thor: The Dark World, Alan Taylor. USA. 2013: Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi, USA, 2017). Asano plays the titular Criminal, while the Whore is played by Nathalia Acevedo, who also starred in Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany. 2012), with German-Russian actress Elena Kazan, who has acted in various Bengali and Hindi/Bollywood films, playing the Lover, a woman that the Criminal seems to leave in order to be with the Whore. The other main characters in the film are the Friend (Andre Fnertellano), the Godfather (Vim Nadera) and the Pianist (played by Khavn himself).
Perhaps more significant than the presence of known actors, though, is the fact that Ruined Heart was shot by superstar cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who rose to fame through his work with Wong Kar-Wai (most notably Chung Hing sam lam/Chungking Express, Hong Kong, 1994, and Faa yeung nin wa/In the Mood for Love, Hong Kong/China, 2000), but who has also worked with such luminaries as Edward Yang (Hai tan de yi tian/That Day on the Beach, Taiwan. 1983), Chen Kaige (Feng yue/Temptress Moon, China/Hong Kong, 1996), Gus Van Sant (Psycho, USA, 1998; Paranoid Park, France/USA, 2007), Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Autralia, 2002), Zhang Yimou (Ting xiong/Hero, China/Hong Kong, 2002), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe; Invisible Waves), M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water, USA, 2006). Jim Jarmusch (The Limits of Control, USA/Japan, 2009), Mark Cousins (I Am Belfast, UK, 2015; Stockholm My Love, Sweden/UK, 2016) and Alejandro Jodorowsky (Poesia sin fin/Endless Poetry, Chile/UK/France, 2016). In this way, Ruined Heart constitutes a significantly higher profile film than Khavn's earlier (and subsequent) work.
While for this project Khavn worked with significantly higher profile collaborators than usual, though, in many respects Ruined Heart constitutes a typical Khavn film. It features barely any dialogue, instead progressing via a series of musical numbers, some of which we see being performed in the miseen-scene, and some of which are seemingly non-diegetic. The film's...