In Film Comment‘s second Cannes roundtable, Jonathan Romney worked in a plug for this one as the film “that really excited me in a way that others didn’t.” Here’s how he opens his review in Screen: “Raskolnikov goes to the Philippines in Norte, the End of History (Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan), which takes Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a springboard for Lav Diaz’s musings on guilt, will and modern Filipino history. Among adepts of so-called ‘Slow Cinema,’ writer-director Diaz is reputed as a marathon champ, his films sometimes exceeding the eight-hour mark. By comparison, the four-hour Norte is a miniature, but it’s also an accessible film, a superb piece of focused narrative that’s more immediately coherent than such digressive pieces as 2009’s Melancholia.”
One of the more remarkable diaries of a viewing experience to come out of Cannes this year is Wesley Morris‘s account of almost accidentally wandering into a screening of Norte only to discover a “masterpiece.” The entry at Grantland needs to be read in full, but here’s a bit of it: “Norte, the End of History has the title of a war epic and the soul and scope of a Great Novel. It’s set right now and opens in rather mundane fashion: three friends talking in a café. One is a lapsed law student named Fabian (Sid Lucero) who casually goes on about how he’s opposed to everything, including nationality and capitalism, then proceeds to borrow money for his rent. The movie spins out from that banal hypocrisy into a series of moral crises that ruin lives. A double murder is committed that sends an innocent man (Archie Alemania) to prison, leaving behind a wife (Angeli Bayani) and two small children. The killer continues with his life but not without descending into guilt, misery, remorse, then something altogether more shocking…. The movie takes you to the brink of despair over and over without ever venturing into the cosmic cruelty of certain, very good European directors…. Diaz is 54, and he matches his tremendous artistry with both quiet spiritualism and a rare wisdom of the ways of the world…. Norte was my first experience with him, but I was told by a couple of colleagues, whom I saw clapping on the other side of the theater, that it was his best.”
From the Inquirer‘s Bayani San Diego Jr.
Diaz’s 15th film “grapples with big abstract themes—justice, the nature of evil, guilt, fate, love—but keeps them firmly rooted in the concrete particulars of Philippine society,” writes Kieron Corless in a dispatch to Sight & Sound. “There are clear nods to Dostoevsky, but the student’s descent into ever more horrific depths is only one element, beautifully counterpointed with the imprisoned man’s spiritual awakening, his wife’s struggle to cope without him and raise their children, and their continued love for each other despite the hand they’ve been dealt. The episodic, unpredictable narrative proceeds by way of a series of stunning long takes, all visually and spatially perfectly choreographed.”
And do read Anna Tatarska‘s interview with Diaz here in Keyframe.
Updates: Introducing his interview with Diaz, Notebook editor Daniel Kasman calls Norte “a dedication and commitment to patience and time amidst an atmosphere of relentlessly tight scheduling and update-every-minute opinionating coverage. Those who entered Diaz’s world swam somewhere else than the Riviera for those brief hours, and were rewarded with quite possibly the best film there.”
For Rowena Santos Aquino, writing at Next Projection, Diaz “has done something extraordinary and cinematic—or put another way, something extraordinarily cinematic—at every level: narrative, formal, visual, performative, and philosophical.”
Update, 5/31: For Neil Young, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, this is “a grotesquely distended misfire that clocks in at an utterly unwarranted four hours…. Hailed in certain influential quarters as a major figure in world cinema, Diaz is unquestionably a brave and uncompromising practitioner of his chosen art-form. But audiences coming to Norte without prior knowledge of his oeuvre may well wonder what on earth the fuss is about.”
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