Norte, The End of History

Written on July 18, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Film

norteInnocence and punishment come together in this gripping Dostoyevskian epic from the Filipino director Lav Diaz: a gigantic four-hour saga composed with pellucid clarity and simplicity, and a kind of transcendental naturalism. This is a classical tragedy of the modernPhilippines and of global capitalism, a story of violence, hate, fear and love spread out on a colossal panorama which extends its reach into the realms of the spiritual and the supernatural.

Diaz’s camera depicts everything in pin-sharp deep focus. He appears to frame reality in every quotidian detail, even as it begins to merge into dreamlike unreality. The light in this film seems as clear and calm as a standing pool, and yet there is a blazing emotional turbulence in the picture too. It has a rapture – something weirdly euphoric, and is absolutely unlike anything else around, although you might draw parallels with the quietist achievements of Asian cinema such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, or Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There? and I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone. Sergio Leone might have wanted to make his own version of Norte, The End Of History.

The Norte of the title refers to the Philippines’ northern province of Ilocos Norte where a certain hothead student called Fabian (Sid Lucero) holds forth on the subject of atheism and anarchism to his long-suffering friends. The terms of the debate have evidently been set by the alleged “end of history”: the absolute victory achieved by capitalism and western liberal democracy, famously hailed by the historian Francis Fukuyama in the late 80s, but now leaving Asia’s developing world on the losing side. Fabian rages at the corruption and complacency of the Philippines’ ruling classes and longs for some Napoleonic individual who — undeterred by the non-existent God and his meaningless sixth commandment — has the courage to carry out some violent revolutionary act.

As it happens, he is desperately in debt to the local moneylender, Magda (Mae Paner) – and so is Joaquin (Archie Alemania) a poor soul whose plans to open a roadside cafe, poignantly named after his children, have come terribly unstuck. Fabian, that sociopath, confuses the personal with the political and decides that the time for violence has come, but the subsequent horrific act is blamed on Joaquin. Yet it is Joaquin who enters into a mysterious state of grace in jail, while Fabian endures an unending calvary of horror while notionally a free man, in parallel with Joaquin’s wife and children.

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