NORTE, the End of History (2013)

July 15th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Lav Diaz

Cast: Sid Lucero, Archie Alemania, Angeli Bayani, Mae Panes

Philippines 2013; 250 min.

For most filmmakers a 250 minutes opus like NORTE would be the exception in length, and this goes also for Philippine director Lav Diaz – only for him, four hours represent a compromise the other way round: compared with his seven and a half hour masterpiece Melancholia (2009), NORTE is just a short.

Lavrente Diaz was named by his parents after a character from a Dostojevsky novel, and NORTE is in its epic format and contents definitely comparable with  ‘Guilt and Punishment’.

As always with Diaz, the harsh landscape of the Philippines is the background for a violent narrative, but Diaz rarely shows this violence: his aesthetics are puritanical like Bresson’s, with whom he also shares the transfiguration of his characters. Whilst being a realist, there is also some deeply felt spiritualism in Diaz films.

The first ‘shock’ for the Diaz enthusiast is that NORTE is his first film in colour for over eleven years.  Being used to his grainy black/white images, one wonders, how this change will affect the film. Not to worry, Diaz uses colour to show the exterior even in even more dominant form: Long, panoramic shots, the camera panning above the fields, the light diffuse, the colours only vibrant at night, the stillness of the land, in contrast to the hectic, with which the protagonists move. A mixture of Cezanne and Monet.

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The film gets under way as a discussion between law students in a café, one of them, Fabian, has left the course in spite of his talent and drifts from job to jop, always borrowing money from friends and the moneylender and pawnbroker, Miss Magda. She is a fat woman with bad manners and exploits everyone in need, like Joaquin and Eliza, who have two children. After Eliza had to pawn a ring, Joaquin threatens Magda and tries to strangle her, before running away. A few hours later at night, Fabian kills the pawnbroker and her teenage daughter (we only hear the killings behind doors), than runs off. Next day, Joaquin is arrested and later sentenced to lifelong prison. Years go by, Joaquin gives Eliza some money, which she uses to visit her husband, whose far away prison can only reached by plane. Being a guest at his sister’s house, Joaquin rapes her and than kills his favourite dog (again off scene). Then he hires a boat and drifts into the direction of the ocean. But the second to last scene shows the site of a plane crash, we mostly see the lamps, which Joaquin had made in prison for his family. The images of the crash side are one of the saddest moments in the history of film.

NORTE is delicate and at the same overwhelming, we learn so much about the characters, when watching them at work, or listening to their reflections. There is always enough time to observe, and one has the feeling of being a part of this film. Without sentimentality, Diaz shows the emotion, in peeling back layer after layer. A true masterpiece. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18TH JULY 2014

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