Saturday, September 13, 2014

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History)

Director: Lav Diaz
With: Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Juana Change, Hazel Orencio, Soliman Cruz, Angelina Kanapi

How can I miss Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan when this film is more likely to be the Philippines' submission for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars? First, it screened in Cannes, and then it got UK and US distributors, it won Best Picture in Gawad Urian and it won other several awards in many film festivals. Plus, the raving reviews and hype everywhere. It's got the blessing of so many critics and these are good enough reasons to be our country's ace at the Oscars.

The catch is it runs for 4 freaking hours. O_O

Four hours. Not many people have that time for a single film. It's scary. With my age, it's not wise to spend four hours in a movie especially if there's a chance that it would be torture. It's also longer than Manila to Singapore travel time. That kept bugging me upon deciding if I should watch this so-called masterpiece by many. But it was a Friday night after a long day at work and I've got four hours to kill before fully embracing the weekend. I told myself to just relax and enjoy it. Besides, I've never experienced watching a 4-hour film in a cinema before, so I looked at this as a new experience. No pressure. If I didn't like it, then I'll just leave the movie house in the middle of the film. It was an option but when I watched it, I never even thought about it. Norte is compelling.

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan tells the lives of three characters -- Fabian (Sid Lucero) who is a law school dropout, Eliza (Angeli Bayani) and Joaquin (Archie Alemania), a couple living in the brink of poverty. When Fabian killed Eliza's creditor Magda, Joaquin takes the blame and receives a life sentence leaving Eliza and their two children behind. Lav Diaz explores so many themes like religion, philosophy, government, politics, war, etc mixing these with this coercive story and it creates for a depressing film beyond belief.

At first, I thought it would be a little pretentious because in the beginning, Fabian's character have these numerous substantial and deep conversations with his friends and ex-professors from law school. But then I remembered, I've encountered some people who actually talks about these serious matters with their straight faces. They exist, and I've come to terms with it. Especially that in the end, it didn't matter much anyway. The devastating story triumphs these themes and it's what matters to me and it's the reason why I liked the film. The aftermath of Fabian's crime that put the three leads to the edge of their beings is what kept me on watching the film. It's as if I'm a masochist who lives to keep on finding out what heartbreaking scene will occur next.

Sid Lucero as Fabian Viduya
photo from
These themes and storylines wouldn't be as effective if not for the top notch acting of the ensemble, wherein each of them are champions to me because of how unbelievably tremendous they are in this film. I just can imagine Diaz pushing these actors to the end of their limits with all the emotions they had to induce and all the long scenes without cuts that they had to endure. It's unbelievable. Sid Lucero is intense as Fabian who's trying to escape the demon in him where his conscience, knowledge and goodness battle within him which evokes all the shattering actions that he make after he committed the crime. His outlandish commitment to his character, I bet took its toll on him while they're filming is . It's a character that required so much from him but he depicted it so well. Angeli Bayani as Eliza is like the opposite of Lucero yet she's nothing short of magnificence. This is the first film I've watched from Bayani. I wasn't able to watch Ilo Ilo and Bwaya, but now I want to see them because her acting gave me life throughout the film. Her authenticity made the film so much more powerful as she has the ability to elicit emotions just through her facial expressions. She didn't have much dialogue but she demanded the grief and loneliness to be felt as her look alone pierces beyond the power of words. Archie Alemania as Joaquin is the best I've seen him after so many years of absence in films. This is a great comeback that will surely open new doors for him. He's going to excel in indie films I suppose. The subtlety in his performance is so wondrous especially I've known him as a comedian but here, he showed no ounce of comedy. The supporting characters such as Juana Change, Soliman Cruz, Hazel Orencio and Angelina Kanapi also deserve praise worthy mentions as they each provided distinctiveness and depth to their respective roles. Personal favorite is Kanapi's Hoda Viduya, Fabian's mentally challenged sister. This film is indeed a glorious instrument for actors. Amazing.

I guess by now it would be cliche to say that it didn't feel like I've watched four hours of depressing stuff because for one, it DID feel like I've watched hours of depressing stuff. It's undeniably slow but I commend Diaz for sticking to his guns and pushing his vision. That's what film making is about. But I wouldn't call it a masterpiece like what most people ought it to be. Thank goodness for the acting because it made the film so much more raw but there are some aspects of it that are sloppy -- those pesky fake tattoos, fake call, flaws in subtitles (or probably minor hiccups in the script). I wish I didn't notice those but I did and these small details bug me even though overall, the film is acceptable even with these mistakes.

With all these wrongs and rights, Norte is a film that I can sincerely label as a journey or an experience. It's a film that exudes emotions and thoughts in every frame. It's a film that shows the good and dark sides of humanity. A film that showcased the beauty of simple life. It's also a film that took risks that there's no way it's plain. It's a film that boasts the strength of artists. Therefore, it's a film that needs to be watched by many. It's not for everyone, but as I've mentioned above, it's worth the four hours.