Michael Kienzl

An irreligious moment of transcendence. Lav Diaz filmed Dostoyevsky.

Just before the new film by Lav Diaz arrives at the end of its story, it comes to a magical moment: Asleep Joaquin (Archie Alemania) lies in his bed, slowly dissolving from the ground and begins to float in the air. Normally, levitation is attributed primarily to the elect in Christian mythology. Here, however, it is a simple worker who has experienced almost all the suffering that can happen to a person. The pain that has become the constant in his life has not made him despair of the world, but has overcome the here and now. Every setback he had to experience and every cruelty done to him could not shake his faith in the goodness of man. Poverty and loss do not make him a resigned, but a saint.

A feeling of weightlessness comes over you when you see Norte ( Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan). Slowly you are drawn into this wonderful cinema moment and can be carried away by the quiet narrative rhythm through an epic about guilt, forgiveness, justice and justice. In addition to the scene already mentioned, the film literally loses its grip, for example when the camera hovers over a seemingly endless slum landscape during a dream sequence. But it is also subliminal movements such as rides and easy pans, which contribute to the visual experience to a single river, which is also contemplative, but above all surprisingly narrative. And in color, which is definitely worth mentioning for a director who has consistently shot his latest films in black and white.

The lightness of the film is notable because it takes on a brutal story and also begins quite theory-driven. Right in the first scene we see the law student Fabian (Sid Lucero) discussing with two friends. It’s about different worldviews like anarchism and existentialism and about the relationship between the individual and the mass. Fabian is of the opinion that justice must be enforced by force in an emergency. Later, during a trip with his fellow students, he talks about Philippine national heroes such as José Rizal, whose revolutions are seeking their peers against oppression in the present day. As a mixture of world improver and self-proclaimed superman à la cocktail for a corpse ( Rope, 1948), the destructive young man makes a momentous decision: A wealthy woman who ruthlessly exploits the poor in his street is to become a symbolic victim of his ideals. Ultimately, he harms with this murder but those whom he really wanted to help. While he himself is eaten away by feelings of guilt, the family man Joaquin comes to his place in jail.

With more than four hours running, Norte is a long film, but not in comparison to older works by Lav Diaz. Since his nearly thirteen- hour evolution of a Filipino Family ( Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, 2004), the Filipino director moves slowly to feature length. It’s amazing how he unites scenes of varying proportions to such an extent without the film losing any of its unity. A very own rhythm develops when action-centered passages, documentary observations and supernatural moments glide smoothly into each other. Particularly fascinating are those moments in which Diaz devotes himself to pausing and rambling the figures in detail. A thought process takes place in its interior, which is not carried out through dialogues and which can be followed or not by a later action.

Just as narration in Norte is not always the center of attention, so it is with the characters. The frequent totals almost always bind people into wide spaces and landscapes. You can really feel how the pictures breathe. Interesting is the comparison with Diaz’s compatriot Brillante Mendoza, who also places his actors in an environment that seems to exist independently of them. But where Mendoza relies on a documentary hand-held camera where the world passes by, life in Diaz’s paintings slowly unfolds. Even if the images are static, they seem to pulse with each pixel.

Although Diaz’s film has a captivating sensual quality, it remains closely connected to the social reality and history of his country. Thus, not only the extreme class differences and the motive of the exploitation pull through the whole film, also the widespread labor migration and Christianity as a focal point for tortured souls are discussed. With his two protagonists pointed to extreme contrasts, Diaz makes no secret of whom he prefers. While Fabian wants to free himself from his guilt like a spoiled child, but only finds his valve in destruction, Joaquin does not lose his humanity even in prison. A gangster maltreats him and others in a cruel way, but when the torturer, drawn by illness, becomes an easy victim, Joaquin gives him nothing less than his love in a very touching scene. The violent revolution is inNorte a dead end, the victims ultimately always the underprivileged. Joaquin becomes the martyr of the destitute. Although Diaz attacks Christian elements in places, he sees no salvation in the institution of the Church. The protagonist gets his or her idea of ​​it in a completely irreligious moment of transcendence.