Wednesday, 23 July 2014

SHORT REVIEW: Norte, The End of History (2014)

This short review appeared on The Upcoming website here.

There is very little than cinema should not do, any innovation or experiment ought to be welcomed as an attempt at finding a new means of expression. One such innovative filmmaker is Lav Diaz, whose Norte, The End of History, at 250 minutes, is one of his shortest films.

A re-working of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the film follows Fabian (Sid Lucero), a student who has dropped out of law school, disillusioned with the law. Isolated and confused, Fabian embarks on a pointless murderous spree. A poor man, Joaquin (Archie Alemania) is imprisoned for the crime, leaving his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani) and their two children destitute. The consequences of Fabian’s actions play out over a number of years.

The film is long, but it is frequently beautiful to look at and somehow hypnotic – time ceases to matter as the film’s images immerse you in a way that makes the drama all the more moving and the violence all the more shocking. There is a evocative reality to the film, which a much shorter film could not capture so easily. The weight of Eliza’s everyday life is seen in stark detail, while Fabian’s wanderings take on a powerfully nihilistic feel.

Norte, The End of History delves into the same themes as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment albeit with a modern and specifically Asian re-reading. The film opens with a discussion of the end of history – capitalism and the West have won. For Fabian, an unfair and Godless world can be changed only by violence. Eliza and Joaquin have a different view of life, one of poverty, work and family, a view of life in stark contrast to the laid-back musings of Fabian and his friends.

However, Lav Diaz takes 250 minutes to come to his conclusions and yet these do not extend even as far as Dostoevsky’s novel or Woody Allen’s best and most thoughtful film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. The film is certainly worth seeing for its hypnotic vision of everyday life but there is both something rewarding and something lazy about Diaz’ aesthetics. It imparts a fascinating and wholly believable vision of everyday life, but it does not do much more than that, paying only surface attention to the ideas it addresses. On first viewing, it is both satisfying and disappointing – far from perfect but a good example of challenging cinema.

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