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(A&F link to From What Is Before (2014).) Adam Nayman, Little White Lies: "... The underlying allegory here, of a literally and figuratively poor soul bearing the brunt of a more affluent man’s crime, is not subtle, but Diaz’s strategy is to couch his sociopolitical analysis in a languorous real-time style that serves to mute any points being scored. This is not a criticism; part of what’s so compelling about Norte is how it places what is basically a potboiler plot inside a contemplative artistic space and integrates the two modes at what feels like a molecular level. There are moments when it seems that Diaz is mining other sources beyond ‘Crime and Punishment’; Joaquin’s extended sojourn behind bars plays on (though never succumbs to) prison-drama conventions, while his wife Eliza’s (Angeli Bayani) attempt to raise their children alone gestures slightly towards Mizoguchi’s melancholy melodramas about tragically discarded women. It’s not so much that the director is swinging for the fences of film history as he’s collapsing the distance between his own film culture — which is still primarily regarded as exotic by Western programmers and festival gatekeepers — and the rest of cinema — even as at the same time Norte stands apart by dint of its length and general severity." David Fear, Time Out New York: "A regional riff on Crime and Punishment (and the most intimate epic at this year’s festival), Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz’s rich four-hour study of fractured morality introduces us to a louche law student (Sid Lucero, amazing) and a farmer’s son (Archie Alemania). Fate connects them when one man commits a double-murder and the other takes the fall; in between digressions about politics, nationalism, class, capitalism and history (or the end of it), we’re treated to a sprawling yet compelling tale of social injustice sans sermonizing. Novelistic is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, but Diaz’s film more than earns the adjective, and you’d have to go back to Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi to find a movie that approaches marathon-length running times yet still makes you wish it were twice as long." Peter Sobcyzniski, RogerEbert.com: "... This may sound like an absolutely untenable running time but it has to be taken into consideration that Diaz is a filmmaker who uses extended running times (some of his previous films have clocked in at over 6 hours) as a deliberate part of a narrative approach that favors long takes and almost imperceptibly slow tracking shots over whiplash editing as a way of illustrating the slow and sometimes monotonous rhythms of daily existence. This is an intriguing approach and there are long stretches of "Norte" that are absolutely spellbinding to watch, aided in no small part from the excellent performances from the cast and the often stunning cinematography from Lauro Rene Mands ..." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "Innocence 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 modern Philippines 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 ..."
(A&F link to Norte, the End of History (2013).) Eric Kohn, Indiewire: "Considering that we live in the age of binge-viewing, the prospects of sitting through a five-and-a-half hour movie shouldn't sound so radical. Of course, there are long movies and there are Lav Diaz movies, which apply their durations with such particular aesthetic finesse that one must embrace the challenge to access their unique appeal. "From What Is Before," the Phillipine director's latest opus, runs considerably shorter than some of his other features — 2008's "Melancholia," for instance, approaches the eight hours — yet rarely does this unconventional form fit its content so well. "Norte, the End of History," released earlier this year, expanded "Crime and Punishment" to a four-hour epic that used its source material to explore a broader passage of time with compelling but mixed results. The new movie earns every minute. Diaz's starkly photographed black-and-white drama takes place in a remote village in the early 1970's, exploring the final days of a tranquil religious community on the brink of collapse. Climaxing with president Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972, "From What Is Before" steadily develops a quiet world defined by quaint traditions and the solitude of a barren coastal landscape. In its opening moments, a voice over declares that the ensuing events are "based on real life" but "came from memory," and Diaz's gradual accumulation of details justifies that declaration. In the first hour, a world comes to life, enhancing the tragedy when it falls apart ... Setting the action almost exclusively within the barrio's confines never limits its visual sophistication, as Diaz captures remarkable sequences on open fields and across a majestic beach where the waves constantly whip against hulking rock formations. The endless chaos of nature embodies the abstract threat of imminent destruction; by imbuing these shots with a combination of mystical allure and darker possibilities, Diaz creates a haunting atmosphere that makes it possible to absorb the story even when it slows to a crawl. There's a liberating quality to his patient approach. The director often pauses for scenes of extended beauty, including a haunting lamentation performed in the wake of a woman losing her child, and countless monologues involving the themes at play. Since the movie explores the cryptic developments of a small town captured in black-and-white, it's easy enough to find some rudimentary parallels with Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," and the stripped-down, doom-laden ambience echoes Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse." But "From What Is Before" has a more sustained connection to its characters' traumatic experiences. Each somber moment bleeds into the next, but the bigger picture matters, too: Small details established early on set the stage for major revelations hours later. The texture drives the narrative forward, so that Diaz ultimately creates the impression of a community shrouded from its surrounding society even as it closes in on them with horrific indifference ..." Clarence Tsui, Hollywood Reporter: “Set prior to a fracture in history, Lav Diaz's From What Is Before tracks lives in a small village in the Philippines during the three-year run-up to then-president Ferdinand Marcos' placing the country under martial law in 1972. The film reflects on the passing of a simpler epoch — complete with its emphasis on traditional rituals, relationships and values — and articulates an indictment of the emerging cynicism which would define a generation of go-getters holding the reins of power in the subsequent decades ... Or maybe From What Is Before could also be seen as Diaz's (and the Philippines') answer to The White Ribbon. Like Michael Haneke's suspenseful Germany-set drama, Before's locale boasts traditions (of a more spiritual kind, in the shape of healers and musical wakes for the dead) and morals slowly eclipsed by mysterious deadly deeds in town: cows (and then a feeble pensioner) being hacked to death, houses being burnt dow, and ghostly wails from the forests. There are hints of who's behind this — the sight of a machete here, the pattering of urchins' feet there — but the true culprit is the social climate enabling this decadence. As the older generation looks on, through the eyes of farmhand Sito (Perry Dizon), beleaguered priest Guido (Joel Saracho) and the homecoming Horacio (Noel Sto. Domingo), things deteriorate as if to prove that the present and the future are no country for old men ... These tightly-scripted conversations and full-fleshed characterizations complement the heartbreaking beauty of the imagery. Toward the end of the film, a body floats downriver as a voiceover (possibly standing in for Diaz, who has described this film as an adaptation of his own recollections) speaks of how all this is the "memory of a cataclysm." While not exactly a full-fledged magnum opus, From What Is Before hints at a new direction combining an unhurried visual pace and a more dramatic, forceful approach in tackling history and politics.”