Lav Diaz’s 2013 feature film is undeniably long with more than four hours running time (consider it short given his track record, one film clocking in at almost 11 hours) but it is never obscure or boring.
The story of Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan revolves around the lives of Fabian Viduya (Sid Lucero), a dropout law student who is full of angst toward the world and Joaquin Atillano (Archie Alemania), a loving husband to Eliza (Angeli Bayani) and a father of two, who’s introduced as an injured man in the beginning but went on to become symbolically paralyzed for the entire four hours of the film.
The film tackles Fabian’s core –his strengths, his weaknesses, the internal revolution –and the consequences it will bring to the innocent Joaquin.
From the act of murder by a passionate intellectual comes the macro view of the world through a layered narrative. Diaz underlines a message that if you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy, you’re doomed to eternal damnation, especially in a third world setting like the Philippines.
As Salvador, an inmate befriended by Joaquin, puts it: to live is a curse –and the film resonates this all throughout.
Norte is loosely based by the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but to compare it solely to its literary counterpart only limits the film. Likewise, to judge it by its running time is a prejudice.
While the struggles presented in the film is universal, the specific details is allegorical.
Lav Diaz flourishes with wide shots and long takes, limited close ups, every frame composed like a series of photographs panning slowly to focus on the subject. The editing flows smoothly and the natural sounds give the film a sense of realism, and of course one must never forget the lighting that forewarns us of what could happen next, or what the light signified when the act happened –red, orange, white, it’s as if watching a literary piece come to life.
Norte is philosophical, political, psychological, and emotional –it is intense in the sense that one cannot leave the cinema without haunting images of truth depicted in the film. Transcending the dynamics of good and bad, Fabian shows us an internal antinomy, leaving a horrifying feeling of walking in the real world, unaware that your seat mate in the bus might be a killer.
Fabian is the society; he is the condensed problem of the Philippines; the kind we want to get rid of but we couldn’t.
Sid Lucero’s Fabian is intelligent, he acts beyond reason and understanding, one who has a grasp of sanity and insanity at the same time. His character remains a question until the last frame. Lucero’s acting evokes effective feeling of admiration, fear, disgust, and horror. The four hour screening time even felt not enough for his arc to be explained or rather, to be shown. And it’s not a bad thing to crave for more, on this film’s case.
In contrast to Fabian is Archie Alemania’s Joaquin: simple, kind, sympathetic, and pathetic at the same time. His portrayal proves his acting chops. Also, Angeli Bayani’s Eliza is remarkable, you can see the internal struggle in the slow build up of tears in her eyes up to its downpour on her cheeks. It’s definitely a long shot worth waiting for.
All the cast, from the main stars up to supporting, are phenomenal. Miles Kanapi’s Hoda, Soliman Cruz’s Wakwak, the professors and friends of Fabian, Hazel Orencio’s Ading, Noel Sto. Domingo’s Salvador –they are all worthy of praise.
There were minor technical mishaps such as Magda’s (Mae Paner) incorrect usage of cellphone while calling, the obvious pentel pen tattoos, or even Joaquin mentioning the wrong age of his son, but all these are forgivable. I’m not sure if the obvious pentel pen tattoos represent something deeper than what it seems though, as Diaz seems to put meaning in everything.
By the end of the film, one would already have a sense that fate, no matter how you try to avoid it, will still be fulfilled. And it’s a cake too sour to eat.
Overall, if the measure of a good film is one that stays with you long after you left the cinema, then consider this film one. Watch it and you’ll know why all the critics and filmmakers are raving for it.