Movie Review - Norte, the End of History

This is the Philippines' official submission to the 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Directed and co-written by Lav Diaz, the movie is a loose interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

The same basic premise remains. A former college student plots to murder a moneylender. Instead of simply following the murderer, Diaz's movie also spends considerable time with the man falsely convicted of the brutal killing, as well as with the wife and children of that falsely convicted man.

Not knowing too much about the Philippines, it was surprising to hear the people speaking a mix of Tagalog, English and Spanish. Conversations between people switches fluidly between all three with ease. Given the Spanish influences, it was no surprise that people there celebrate Christmas. Decorations can clearly be seen on the streets of Laoag City where the movie is mostly set.

Laoag City is located in the northern-most part of the main island of the Philippines. With Diaz's mostly wide-shots and still, unflinching nature, as well as the help of cameras attached to drone aircraft, the filmmaker paints a pretty expansive portrait of this area of the Philippines and its inhabitants. That being said, he didn't need to take four hours of my life to do it.

Literally, every scene and every shot could have been supremely trimmed. Practically, every shot goes on for too long. Every scene has dead air or not enough happening in the frame to justify its persistence or Diaz's refusal to cut to any kind of coverage. A recent film, Last Summer by Mark Thiedeman, told its entire brief story in nothing but close-ups and no wide-shots. Here, Diaz does the opposite and tells this entire story in nothing but wide-shots and absolutely no close-ups. I dare say there wasn't even a medium shot anywhere.

The only time we get anything resembling a close-up is when a character walks toward the camera and the camera can't pull back any further. Not using any close-ups isn't a criticism per se. It gives the film an unobtrusive quality that adds to the visceral nature of the whole piece. It makes the audience feel the actions or even the lack of actions more, particularly the moments of violence.

However, every scene doesn't need to be that way. There comes a time in every scene when a point has been made. A better filmmaker would and should move on. Diaz seems content to let things drag out. He drags and drags things until the four-hour mark and he doesn't conclude anything. He merely stops.

The problem is that Diaz borrows from Crime and Punishment but doesn't borrow enough. He tackles the crime but not the punishment. In Dostoyevsky's story, the murderer is sent to prison by the end. Here, the murderer simply goes on a boat ride at the four-hour mark and that's it. One then wonders what to glean from that.

Sid Lucero stars as Fabian, an ex-law student who commits a horrific and cold-blooded, double homicide. It supposedly is in accordance with some insane, nihilistic, indignant and anti-social philosophy he now espouses and to which he subscribes, but later crimes he commits like incestuous rape and the slaughter of a dog indicates sheer psychopathic tendencies and possible blood-lust, as well as severe anger management issues.

Like Dostoyevsky, a possible trajectory of guilt and redemption as well as empathy and sympathy are laid down, but it only ends up being bait that's never biten. We are simply awash in a man who is a maniac.

Archie Alemania co-stars as Joaquin, the young man who is falsely convicted of Fabian's double-homicide. The conviction of Joaquin is something that Diaz and his co-writer skip over. They drag out everything else, but the legal prosecution of Joaquin is oddly skipped. Probably, this is due to the fact that it's easier to suspend disbelief because in reality, in present-day adjudication, Joaquin's conviction most likely wouldn't have happened.

There is no physical evidence that links Joaquin to the crime scene. No hair, no fingerprints, no DNA and no murder weapon came from Joaquin. We know this because we see that it was clearly Fabian who viciously stabbed to death a mother and her daughter. It's revealed later that Joaquin had an alibi, so how in the Hell could he have been convicted? It makes no sense. Diaz just needed Joaquin to go to jail, so he could do an adjunct prison drama.

Angeli Bayani co-stars as Eliza, the wife of Joaquin and the mother of his two children. She's left behind struggling to make money and provide for her family. Things are clearly difficult, but a scene where the implication that Eliza might do something possibly suicidal is not developed well-enough to be accepted here. Despite all the dragging out, I never felt the passage of time for her. She could have benefitted from some close-ups, but Diaz never gives her any.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 4 hrs. and 10 mins.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


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