Gabe Klinger checked in from Chicago to report about the international premiere of Ex Press by Filipino newcomer Jet Leyco.
Ex Press begins with workers clearing a railroad track from soil inundation following floods. We see this activity one painstaking shovel-full at a time, in black and white, until an abrupt cut to color suggests time has shifted — into a not-so-distant past? a future?… it’s unclear. A bandana’d passenger reminisces: "How many years have passed? I can’t remember."
A train stuck in its tracks and in time, calling to mind the Philippines’ brutal colonial past. The title plays on the fact that this train is anything but express; it’s so slow, in fact, that the passenger tells us in narration that "you’ll remember your past life. Even the things you want to forget." Although not as radically slow-paced as Lav Diaz’s work — not even close — his influence looms large over Ex Press. Much of the same idea pervading Diaz’s work comes across in first-timer Jet Leyco’s film, namely, that the inevitable slowing of progress leaves room for one to think, to reflect on history as it unfolds.
As the so-called "first world" became rose to that rank in the 20th century, fostering a climate of extroverted, calculating behavior, "under-developed" corners of the globe cultivated quiet introversion, inadvertently preserving core human values quickly vanishing in the technocratic world of today. Thus the train, once a symbol of progress, now a relic, a conduit for digressions into layered discussions of history, a country.
If there’s one major aspect of Express to critique disapprovingly, it’s that it treats all of this well-tread material somewhat preciously, resorting too often to picturesque frames of decay and an artless blending of industrial sounds and nature to cheaply attempt to create a trance-like atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it’s tedious where Lav Diaz’s films manage to be truly immersive. "I thought we’re new again, without memories… we know what we went through while living," a narrator tells us toward the end. By that moment, one wishes this excessively diffuse verbalization of Ex Press’s thesis could have been conveyed more eloquently.
Ex Press (Jet Leyco, The Philippines 2011, 90′)