Friday, September 12, 2014

Review of NORTE:HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN: To Live is a Curse

September 12, 2014



Finally! Today, I can now say that I have seen a Lav Diaz film. 

Since his multi-awarded "Batang West Side" in 2001, Mr. Diaz has built a name directing artistic opuses that run much much longer than usual feature films, usually more than five hours. His longest was "Evolution of a Filipino Family" in 2004, which clocked at a whopping 11 and a half hours! Running for about 4 hours, "Norte" is fondly referred to as Mr. Diaz's "short" film, and therefore the most accessible of all his films.

"Norte" is set in the northern province of Ilocos Norte. Fabian Viduya (Sid Lucero) was a topnotch law student who quit law school because of his highfalutin philosophical ideas of a society beyond existentialism and anarchy. Joaquin (Archie Alemania) and Eliza (Agnes Bayani) were a poor couple whose dreams of building their own eatery business are dashed when Joaquin suffers a leg injury and they fell deep into debt.

After a heinous crime was committed in their small town of La Paz, these lives of these three people intersected and were thrown into a major maelstrom. These events happened in just in the first hour, the rest of the next three hours follows what happens to each of these three characters following that cruelly fateful day.

I will not pretend and say that I did not feel the four hours. I did feel the length of the film with those static shots that seemed to be showing nothing in particular or the very slow telling of events with several details that seemed like they would have been edited out in usual film. However, each of these scenes would usually precede a scene of big importance, building up the suspense very effectively.

Sid Lucero got put through the proverbial wringer as an actor for his role as Fabian. You'll admire him. You'll pity him. You'll hate him. You'll fear him. This is such a complex role and Lucero was more than up to the task. He had so many highlights --  the drinking session with friends, the prayer meeting, the scene with the dog Yumi. "Norte" is Fabian's story. It was his actions that mess the other characters' lives around. For a super-complex character like Fabian, the four hours was not even enough to get to know his innermost core that drove him to do the things he did. Fabian is a big question mark up to his very last scene.

Angeli Bayani has taken over roles that would probably been given to a young Ms. Nora Aunor. Even if her character barely spoke, it was her eyes and her face that talked to us. Her scenes with Archie Alemania are tearjerkers even without any words nor music to build up the moment. Her back was even turned to us, yet their love was so deeply felt by us. There was also that ominous scene with her kids over a ledge. All she did was take a step backward, and we feel so many mixed emotions at that moment. Such artistry by the director and actor!

Archie Alemania's character development was rather straight-forward and he played the character Joaquin very sympathetically. Mae Paner plays the usurer Magda, such a hateful character you will feel her effect even if she was only seen in the first hour. Soliman Cruz plays the prison bully Wakwak, another hateful character seen in the third hour. That scene where he was singing "O Holy Night" was so insidiously sinister. Angelina Kanapi gives another strange off-beat portrayal as Fabian's cloying sister Hoda.

This film is not for everyone. Not everyone will have the patience for it. Not everyone will have the time for it. However, for those who do invest their time with this, you will experience the artistic vision upon which Lav Diaz has built his name. The innovative camera angles make mundane household items and rustic scenes look and feel different. 

The Urian-winning script of Rody Vera may have been inspired by Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", but this film was unmistakably Filipino in character. We complain that there is no character development in mainstream film. There is no shortage of that here. We will get to see how the events shaped Fabian, Joaquin and Eliza as they were caught in their consequences. 

This rare commercial run could be your best chance to watch a Lav Diaz film and immerse yourself in the work of a director whose name is already being lined up with the esteemed National Artists for film Brocka and Bernal. 9/10.


24 comments:

  1. You are a better movie fan than I, LOL. I could not sit through a four hour movie and live to tell about it! Kudos for you and your in depth review.

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  2. I don't thin I can go that long on a movie. The story looks interesting though plus they have great actors portraying key roles.

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  3. I haven't seen a Filipino-made film lately. This can be a breaker to the block buster movies / international scenes we've been enjoying weekly. As you said this film may not be for everyone, so we'll know if we're part of those who'll like it when we get to watch it soon.

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  4. You did very awesome review. I am curious to watch this.

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  5. I love off beat films to hardcore commercial flicks.. I am sure this one would be a good watch.. and I was really surprised to hear that someone made an 11 hour long film..that surely won't be running in the theatres!

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  6. Great review but unless I can watch it in quarters I think the long format will be much time for people to invest in one shot.

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  7. I would also watch in installment. I might sleep through the film if there are long still shots/

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  8. I like your review.. But if only there's trailers and more photos of this movie... save me some trouble to go research! teehee... I like the quote: To Live is a Curse
    as it makes me think...

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  9. Ive nver watched any film from Diaz yet. But a four-hour movie is long for me hahah. I only laat for 2hr 30 min movie.

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  10. Awesome review man, looking to watch it as soon as possible

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  11. You are really an artist inside your heart and soul. You can felt the scene even without a dialogue.

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  12. I thought Bollywood movies were long at 3 hours but 4 hours is a bit much! The storyline is really interesting though and the way you describe the highlights of the movie makes me want to watch it! Filipino films aren't shown here much though :(

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  13. I don't think I can sit through a movie for four hours. It's brutally long. However I'm very interested with Fabian/Sid Lucero's character.

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  14. OMG, a four-hour-movie seems too long for me to watch. The good thing is that as you said the monotonous scenes were meant to create some suspense. I like the way the three fates intervene with each other. Love your review!

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  15. The poster show a magnificent landscape. I don't know if I could handle 4 hours unless I stay captivated.

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  16. wow 4 hours, its a tad long for me to sit through

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  17. 4 hours?! Just when I thought 3 hours for Lord of The Rings is long enough.

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  18. What a detailed review!! A 4 hour film at that...impressed! (Rachael)

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  19. There's nothing more I can say about this film: those 250 minutes was definitely worth it (though I personally missed the early going portions). Sid is just as fabulous as his name — yes, fabulous for being a psychopath like Fabian! Very deep, there's always a story for every minute-long sequence showcasing all the natural occurences in life. And a huge chunk of reality bites.

    And to be straight, this review triggered me to watch this flick at all. And I'm backing every single thought from this review of yours. Yes, EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT.

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  20. A very detailed review you got there O_O" And its 4 hours? Wow... xD did your ass got sore?

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  21. Amazing review and the plot is very interesting.. Sounds like a huge movie to watch

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  22. I've seen "Batang Westside" and I can attest that Miss Diaz is such a great director. This 'Norte" seems a good film to watch, but ang haba ata..

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    1. Hi Papaleng. I hope you have fully recovered. I do hope they show Batang West Side again. By the way, Lav Diaz is a male! :-)

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