NYFF51 Spotlight: Giving “Norte” Its Due

A prime entry for undiscovered gem of the festival, Lav Diaz’s grimly titled Norte, The End of History is, for all the talk of its lengthy 250 minute running time, remarkably accessible and moving. As NYFF Director of Programming noted, "there’s not a wasted moment in the whole movie." The story of a man wrongfully accused and locked up for a double murder in the Philippines, the film is grounded in universal issues relating to politics, class, law and religion. As many have pointed out, it is also a modern retelling of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

The film opens in a café with Fabian (Sid Lucero), one of our three main characters, discussing with his former law school buddies what's wrong with the world. Political rhetoric is spewed and skewed, and this Godardian edge starts the film off with some real energy. As we come to see, Fabian (a law school dropout) is often cited as a genius, the intelligent academic that could really change the way society is run if he actually stopped talking and put his smarts to good use. In order to get rid of a problem, Fabian believes, find a way to cast it out, i.e. arrest, fire, or murder it. Eventually, he puts his money where his mouth is and kills a greedy, gluttonous woman (and her daughter) who makes her money taking advantage of the poor. He’s a Robin Hood with blood on his hands. In an ironic twist of fate, Fabian will not be held responsible for his actions; Joaquin, a struggling husband and father with ties to the greedy woman, receives the blame for the crime and is locked away in the National Penitentiary while his wife attempts to get by selling vegetables.

Diaz’s story unfolds at a leisurely but structured pace. The running time is often split up among segments of Fabian’s life before and after his crime (he leaves town and befriends born again Christians), Joaquin’s many years in prison (he wishes to receive a pardon from the President of the Republic of The Philippines), and his wife trying to support her two children. Each have an interesting perspective to give, as they were either the reason for the crime or the ones who are most affected by it. As the years march forth—often noted by the annual celebration of Christmas—individuals change and experience regret and rage. The film’s final hour is particularly wrenching, featuring a few disturbing acts that are intensely brutal in what they imply but do not show.

Although Norte: The End of History often remarks on the role of family and religion, do not mistake it for attempts at overwrought sentimentality. The role of religion is seen as both a positive unifier and as a scapegoat for one’s past deeds. Family is valued by showing us what it’s like when it is removed, to be robbed of an always present mother and father. It upsets Joaquin that he rarely gets to see his family and, at one point, Fabian asks his sister what their lives would have been like had their parents been in the picture. Although actions have consequences, the actions that put you there may not necessarily have been of your own doing. If you look closely, Diaz’s film is a testament to those who attempt to persevere regardless.

Mahnola Dargis of The New York Times praised the film: "With a calm, precise visual style—his fluid, understated camera movements almost hover at the edge of your consciousness—and a four-hour-plus running time, Mr. Diaz doesn’t just tell a story about two men, he also shows you the world in which such stories and men emerge. He takes his time (and yours) to move in and around spaces rather than skipping through them, to accumulate details and play with ordinary daily rhythms. At once lifelike and a scrupulous imitation of life, the movie turns time into a bridge that allows you to cross into the lives of others."

Norte: The End of History
Director: Lav Diaz

Section: Official Selection
Screens: 9/29 at 11:30am

NYFF Official Description:

In the northern Philippine province of Luzon, a law-school dropout commits a horrific double murder; a gentle family man takes the fall and receives a life sentence, leaving behind a wife and two kids. At their best, Lav Diaz’s marathon movies reveal just how much other films leave out. In his devastating twelfth feature (at four-plus hours, one of his shortest), the broad canvas accommodates both the irreducible facts of individual experience and the cosmic sweep of time and space. A careful rethinking of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment shot in blazing color, this tour de force offers a masterful recapitulation of Diaz’s longstanding obsessions: cultural memory, national guilt, and the origin of evil. The wounds and defeats of Filipino history loom large in each of Diaz’s films. Fabian, Norte’s tortured anti-hero (superbly played by Sid Lucero), may well be his most indelible creation: a haunting embodiment of the dead ends of ideology.

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