Norte, The End of History
Again, where to start with 250 minutes of movie? An epic, cutting critique of the modern day Philippines, director Lav Diaz has at the very least made a spectacular-looking four hour film. Weaving a complex web of action, reaction, and allegory, we watch as intellectual law school dropout Fabian enacts a horrifying ideology while Joaquin and his family suffer for his transgressions.
Diaz and co-writer Rody Vera have at least crafted something terrific on the page; the script is excellent, even managing to make political and philosophical discussions entertaining. There is a lot to unpack—and better writers than me have done so, such as Larry Gross’ review at Film Comment—and as bizarre as it is to say this, but I will likely have to rewatch it one day (preferably with the ability to pause).
The thing is that Diaz is so utterly confident in what he’s doing that it’s impossible not to at least trudge reluctantly alongside him. The length of each scene found me internally willing it to move on so I could find out what happened next in this saga. Fortunately this didn’t occur often as the imagery is stark and beautiful but rarely showy.
The climax it all comes to after hours of characters forced by time and circumstance to come to terms with their respective predicaments is brutal but, somehow, inevitable. Some of the shots found in the final 45 minutes are like nothing you’ll ever see. The performances, particularly from the two leads, are phenomenal and raw.
It’s possible, from what I’ve read, that Norte makes the most sense within the context of Diaz’s career, spanning 11 films since 1998 one of which is twice as long as this. It is as though the camera is God, surveying what he hath wrought; Diaz’s characters become inextricably linked with religion in one form or another, whether in an attempt to utilise it or in fulfilling it. Through the film a schematic emerges of the crises faced in the Philippines today, which then comes to life with each passing minute.
There is violence here, made all the more shocking by Diaz’s unwillingness to stoop to gratuitousness or sensationalism. The length means that the suddenness of these episodes and stylistic departures (dreams are presented in swooping, greyed-out footage) are all the more jolting and compelling. I can’t say I feel that the length is entirely justified, but it was certainly hypnotic at its best and never boring.
[rating=3] and a half
A masterclass in visual storytelling and a certain future cult classic in the vein of Killer Condom, Moebius comes from notorious Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk. Ultimately a comedy, it’s a tale of genital mutilation, rape, incest, murder, and revenge that twists itself into absurdity at every other turn. Its occasional self-seriousness only made it all the more amusing, leading me to give it the alternative title of Oedickless Rex.
It looks quite cheap, which makes me think that Kim knew exactly how this film would be received. But the performances are surprisingly good and there is a solid vein of social commentary underpinning all the severed dongs. The film is chiefly interested in the way men are furiously driven by sex, and it refuses to leave boundaries uncrossed in its pursuit of this idea. There were gasps of horror as some of the more horrifying segments played out. But mostly the cinema sounded confused as to how to receive such a po-faced slice of absurdity, which only made it more enjoyable.
[rating=3] and a half
Laurence Barber - follow Laurence on Twitter at @bortlb.