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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

entry arrow1:21 AM | The Desperate Limits of History According to Norte's Lav Diaz

Part 7 and Finale of a Series

I hope this article is not too late. It took me forever to articulate what I feel about something we did weeks ago. It has been almost two months since we screened, for one night only, Lav Diaz’s demanding four-hour Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan at Robinson’s Movieworld Dumaguete—his Dostoevsky-ish epic story of crime, punishment, and the unforgiving and blind damnations, all rooted in the historical, that we live with in this godforsaken country. Here, the just is often punished, for whatever reason, and the unjust are often left to play some more because of the absence of consequences for their crimes.

What are the limits of history? the film’s subtitle, if we are careful enough to consider its significance, asks of us. And the answer may be this: that we forget—and so we are condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana once warned. Or perhaps that we turn a blind eye to the pervasive evil that surrounds us, courting it with our good intentions to mollify it—to our detriment, of course. Or perthaps that we no longer hold meaning to the word “justice” at all, because life is unfair, and it is useless to fight the inevitable.

All of these things come into play in the interconnecting stories of two men—Fabian (Sid Lucero) and Joaquin (Archie Alemania), as well as Joaquin’s wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani). Fabian, the jaded philosopher and would-be lawyer, commits a crime to prove a philosophical point, and Joaquin gets the rap. From that twist of fate comes a detailed look into the consequences into the lives of these people as well as the others that surround them. The four hours of this movie are the essential unfolding of the minutiae of their relentless drama. I often thought of how a shorter movie could have done justice to this story—but right now, I cannot. One needless edit would paralyze the power of this film that lies very much in the fact that everything about it has a cumulative effect. By the time you finish the film, you realize that it might have been long, but also that all those minutes counted, and all those scenes were essential in the setting up of the drama of the consequences. We feel with the film a long roller coaster ride through varying emotions—from objective distance to a surprising gravity of immersion in the fates of these characters, from pity to horror, from glimmering hope for redemption to despair and total oblivion.

This is not a film that will make you happy. It will crush your heart—but for some reason, you are thankful that it does so. Any more optimistic would have been more cruel because untruthful.

Given all of that, I am still reeling from the fact that we—Paul Benzi Florendo and I—actually pulled it off, that screening at the end of September. I certainly didn’t think we could. Moira Lang, one of its producers (who also produced Zombadings, and wrote In My Life for Star Cinema back in 2009) and one of my good friends in the film industry, had been hounding me since the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 to have a screening in Dumaguete. And in Facebook, Liryc de la Cruz and Kristine Kintana—two members of Lav’s filmmaking team—were asking me about the possibility as well. And all I could think of was this: could I summon at least 200 people in Dumaguete to shell out P300 for a four-hour movie about the dark recesses of the human soul? I told them, month after month, that I’d look into it—and said it halfheartedly, even though all of me screamed the want—the need!—to watch this acclaimed film.

It took getting Benzi into the plan to finally get things moving, and for that I am thankful. He designed the ticket, he talked to the local theater manager, and together we managed to—surprise, surprise—sell out the whole screening. And going into the screening, we were still fielding queries for ticket sales. By the end of the evening, I felt proud about the turnout in Dumaguete. This was one city hungry for films like this.

The conversations that stemmed post-screening were interesting. A fourteen-year-old high school student by the name of Alfred Fleischer was equally moved and disturbed by the film, he made it a point to text Benzi with this thought: “I really think Jose Rizal’s [words, that] ‘the youth is the hope of the nation,’ is a true one. [From the film, we hear one of the characters responding to that by saying:] ‘Maybe that’s why he died early. So that he could be a hope.’ This was one of the lines from the movie I most remember…. This 4-hour indie film had very little camera movement—which makes it really dragging for the impatient—but the photography was excellent! [It is] spectacular, long, and depressing. [But] four hours and 10 minutes are not enough [to tell the story].”

Those words, from a very perceptive kid!

I asked my students to watch the film, too—and I was floored by the conversations they were having with each other in Facebook about it. One of them, Nikko Paolo Calledo, wrote in his timeline: “At first, I [was hesitant about] watching a four-hour film in Rob last night.… I [had] other important things [to do] that was due the next day. I thought it would be a ‘waste’ [of my time] sitting in a cinema for four hours but thank God [I stayed] because I had just seen one of the most perpetually disturbing, mind-blowing films, [and one] that actually made a lot of sense from start to finish. I’m not good in writing reviews and I have not seen enough movies to justifiably compare it with the others, but I know that a film, like any other form of art, is good enough when it leaves you thinking. It has been 24 hours (almost) since I stepped out from the cinema, and up until now, I am still thinking about Lav Diaz’s Norte. More of these films please! I’d rather spend my money for underground films like this than watch an over-rated teen love team doing the same old [film] plot over and over again and telling us it’s a ‘love story you’ve never seen before.’”

Many film critics from the world over has given lavish praise for the film’s ambitions—Time Out New York called it “the summer movie equivalent of the World Cup final,” Variety hailed it “[one of] the best films of 2014 so far, a mammoth achievement, long but immensely rewarding,” the New York Times’ A.O. Scott described it “a tour de force… a triumph… a true work of art,” and UK’s The Guardian called it “gigantic, euphoric, and extraordinarily moving, absolutely unlike anything else around”—but these are professional film arbiters who cut their teeth watching cinematic rarities like this. To hear ordinary Filipinos try to articulate their admiration for a film that has both challenged and astounded them seems more than rewarding.

Norte is now the Philippines’ official entry to the Oscars. May it prevail.

Norte producer Moira Lang with members of the Cultural Affairs Committee at dinner in Casablanca.

Moira with Benzi, Larissa, and me at dinner in Hayahay.

Post-screening dinner and chitchat with  Moira and Benzi in Qyosko.


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