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J.A.A. Purves

Norte, the End of History (2013)

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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 ..."

 

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This is a tricky film to recommend because it's long, slow, and contains some ugly violence, but it will definitely find a spot in my 2014 top 10 list. The snippet from Adam's review that Jeremy posted above is a great summary of what I loved about it. I'll also add that the film is at times ridiculously beautiful (I don't know how Diaz can work so quickly, with such limited resources, and produce such stunning images), Angeli Bayani's performance is my favorite by any actress this year, and this film reminds me at times of what I like about Bruno Dumont's first two films.

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This is a tricky film to recommend because it's long, slow, and contains some ugly violence, but it will definitely find a spot in my 2014 top 10 list. The snippet from Adam's review that Jeremy posted above is a great summary of what I loved about it. I'll also add that the film is at times ridiculously beautiful (I don't know how Diaz can work so quickly, with such limited resources, and produce such stunning images), Angeli Bayani's performance is my favorite by any actress this year, and this film reminds me at times of what I like about Bruno Dumont's first two films.

I have never seen a single Lav Diaz film. I hadn't even heard about him before until I read about his two latest films. But he appears to be a fascinating director worth paying attention to. I am very much looking forward to trying his films.

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Ths film released last week at the small West End Cinema and will probably be gone by the time I return from our vacation. I can't get to it sooner. Drat.

 

Just curious: How essential is big-screen treatment for this one? Darren mentions "stunning images," but I don't know that such a description entails "you must see it on the big screen." (And those West End screens are pretty tiny, as far as movie-theater screens go.)


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I'm glad I saw it on a big screen, but mostly because it forced me to still still in a theater for four hours. There's some chatter online right now about Diaz. Adrian Martin just published a critique of Norte, and a couple others are calling him out for making unjustifiably-long films. I saw Diaz's latest short in Rotterdam and hated it. It's exactly the type of movie people are imagining when they make straw-man arguments against "boring art films." But I was pretty overwhelmed by Norte, and I have no doubt my experience would have been very different had I watched it over two nights, or while playing with my phone, or while listening to my kids run around upstairs. I think distractions of any kind would break the movie.

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Just got a screener for this. Now to find the time to buckle in.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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It's gone from DC theaters after one week.

 

EDIT: I just reached out to a PR contact in hopes I might still get a screener for the film. Fingers crossed.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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This is now on Netflix. Like Darren said, find a stretch of four hours and focus. It is a long film, but there isn't anything extraneous about it. Miss one conversation or snippet of dialogue, and it falls apart. Quite a feat of fimmaking.

 

I think this screened at Lincoln Center in 2014, yes? Anyone including this on their top ten for the year?


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I never heard back on my screener request and still haven't seen the film.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The film made me recall the time when Yi-Yi was such a formative film for conversation at A&F, which is 170 mins... And we watched that in the heat at C-Stone, right?


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Thanks to the encouragement from Ken and others, I now have a link to screen this film. So. Much. Time.  But it'll be worth it, right?


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Given what other critics have described as its Dostoyevsky structure, Norte felt an awful lot like Omirbayev's underseen Student

 

And specific parts call to mind Dumont's Twentynine Palms. And then there is a bit of Weerasethakul.

 

But these comparisons are casual observations rather than a claim that the director is intentionally borrowing from these quarters of contemporary filmmaking - which makes him all the more interesting to me.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I agree with everything Mike just posted, but all of those comparisons make the film sound painfully slow (which it is at times) and painfully grim (which it also is at times). I prefer Norte to Student and to the Dumont films because Diaz cast great, charismatic actors in the lead roles and they bring a lot of life to characters who could easily become types in the larger allegory. The Raskolnikov is a real bastard but I maintained a good bit of sympathy for him even when he's at his most barbaric. Angeli Bayani's performance is probably my favorite of the year by an actress. The images of her pushing her food cart almost out-Balthazar Bresson.

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Oh, yes... that Bresson reference works well too. Especially given the way Diaz lets the camera linger on street scene compositions and allows people to pass through the frame. There is one such sequence toward the end in which we are watching a multi-level set of streets, and after about 30 seconds, a rickshaw or scooter driver trundles right to left across the upper street in the frame. It gives the impression of an Escher painting, during which that time we have had to gaze, the streets and these buildings have redistributed themselves into mere angles and shapes - so the re-appearance of actual human life startles us. 

 

Diaz is constantly forcing the eye to recalibrate from these two senses of each composition, its raw geometry and then the function each space places as a sphere of human activity. It is as if each of his extended scenes is a bit of a chicken-and-egg puzzle: Which came first? The class mess than is the Philippines or this jumble of architecture that both hides and maintains it?

 

Alright, time to maybe write a review of this!

 

An aside: I am learning how to paint right now and have graduated to large canvases. It takes a long time to paint something decent on a large space. The thought and fiddling it requires expand geometrically with scale. I think there is a formal analogy present here for something like Norte, which is quite long - but it is long in the right way. The details of its craftsmanship are readily apparent throughout.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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An attempt at a review here.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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If you're in L.A. and want to see this in a theater setting, USC is screening it at 1:00 PM this Sunday. 


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Bumping this for List-conversation. I have watched a fair bit of Diaz since my intro to his work through Norte. He requires commitment, but all of his post-Norte  work is worth the perseverance (esp. Season of the Devil, From What is Before, and The Woman Who Left, the latter a heap of incongruous characters and themes kind of piled on top of each other in a series of intensive shots and sequences). 

Norte is a worthy look for our list, given all the Dostoevsky stuff going on. Since I have not seen this for a while, I will give it another look and check back in.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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