Philippine cinematic luminary Lav Diaz draws inspiration from Dostoevsky and iconic compatriot José Rizal in this mature and boldly literate and new drama, which is among the finest works to emerge from the Philippine New Wave.
Norte, The End of History
For almost two decades, Lav Diaz (a filmmaker introduced to the world by late Festival programmer David Overbey) has been at the forefront of the Philippine New Wave, moving his nation's cinema away from its traditional melodramatic aesthetic and towards a different type of film, one that stresses realism and modernism while incorporating the tough social criticism that distinguished filmmakers such as Lino Brocka (whose Manila in the Claws of Light screens at the Festival in the TIFF Cinematheque programme) and Carlos Siguion-Reyna. His latest, Norte, The End of History, is among the finest, most courageous works ever to come from that country. It's his masterpiece because of its scope and rigour, and because it combines disparate strains of his earlier work.
Profoundly literate, Norte begins as a riff on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, contrasting two very different sets of characters. On one side, there is Fabian (Sid Lucero), a charismatic law student who impresses his fellow students through his persuasive and quasi-revolutionary tirades about the state of Philippine society. On the other, there's Joaquin (Archie Alemania), his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani), and their two children, whose attempts to pull themselves out of poverty have been dashed by an injury to Joaquin's leg that has left him depressed and unemployable, and the family in deep debt to the vile loan shark Miss Magda (Mae Paner), the woman who bankrolls Fabian's decadent lifestyle. This link wreaks havoc on all of them when Magda is killed and Joaquin is blamed.
Along the way Diaz alludes to the work of
the great Filipino author José Rizal, criticizing
Filipino class politics, the abdication of
responsibility by the intelligentsia, and the
foreign-worker phenomenon. In the process
he creates a work so layered and emotionally
powerful (and, at times, horrifying)
that it's one of the few films made recently
that deserves and, indeed, demands comparisons
to Edward Yang's classic A Brighter
Summer's Day. Quite simply, it's an astonishing
and deeply mature piece of work.