Flick Reviews: ‘Norte, The End of History/Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan’ (2013)

As part two of my preparation for Lav Diaz’s cinematic epic Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis, I thought of watching another one of his many films. This time, it’s his 2013 opus Norte, The End of History/Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan. In case you didn’t know, the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France back in ’13, and received high praise. From all that buzz, my interest for the film grew and grew. Now, I have finally found the perfect chance to see it.


I familiarized myself with Diaz’s style days ago by watching his short Butterflies Have No Memories and I must say that he is one ambitious filmmaker with a lot to prove. With Norte, he slammed all of his rightfully boastful talents all up in my face with no apologies whatsoever. His vision requires many things but among them, patience and fixation must be used the most. Norte artistically visualizes Lav’s perception on this cruel world, and it becomes mirrored in this 4-hour mega drama that delivers in hefty loads. It becomes his cinematic dissertation on crime and punishment. That aspect gets some shine to it, and is heavily spotlighted on with articulation and propulsion. It never slows down, but what it does is triumphantly move you forward to the sound of its dark heart and a deranged but awake mind. In short, Norte is a massive piece of humane Filipino cinema with a conscience. I have never seen anything quite like it, and that is definitely astounding. Lav just proves that he can do what the others can, only more freely without restrictions and prohibitions. The run-time isn’t only there to piss off those who are haters of the slow-burn, for it becomes truly essential to flesh out the story without leaving traces of lacking elements. Those afraid of its length should find out that there is nothing to be worried about. I can guarantee you that the four hours spent with it is assured to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The director’s vision seems to be reaching out, and what it holds in its hands are gifts of filmic fulfillment.


That becomes evident, and it is absolutely easy to sense all the way around. Lav spears what seems to be his ideologies and philosophies into Lucero’s and Alemania’s characters, and toys with it darkly but consciously.  Unjust injustice gets depicted in these men; one innocent of a crime (Lucero) and the other one guilty (Alemania). Both Sid Lucero and Archie Alemania made us applaud with the heavily affecting performance that they handed out, and each were able to bring out total empathy from the utterance of their honest/painful words. How their stories unraveled is one of the many gratifying things Lav had to offer with Norte. However, the stories weaved in between Lucero’s Fabian and Alemania’s Joaquin are astounding even. How those people are affected by the tragedies are simply incredible, and the actors behind them adds to that. The highlight being Angeli Bayani – who took on the role of Joaquin’s wife lovingly. At times, she even managed to make us just feel so dreary and stirred with the hardships she’s facing. Thus, Bayani seemed to never have had a hard time in making it all so naturalistic. With all of those being connected, in four hours, we are left to observe and absorb from its hypnotizing power vented by Lav and his filmmaking abilities. However, certain distractions must be kept away for the mere observance you would give to this film results into an extremely enduring and calamitous involvement with its voicing of brutal societal pressures. Lav stresses out his worldly concerns and worries in this drama epic, and asserts them in the unstoppable force of his cinematic effort; this. He shows just how painful injustice can get from there mere psychological trauma and distress it can cause to the family of the innocent, and details all of it relentlessly. Most wonderfully, he showed great pride in doing so. Hence the thick and sincere realism injected into the film’s nature.


That is why when realism becomes part of the discussion,  it is easy to state that Norte seemed to know how to handle that quite easily without watering it down even for just a little bit. Each sequence made you feel like you were there, just witnessing the agony, distress and sadness firsthand. They allowed you to feel sympathy for all of those involved be it the damaged or the burdened. Everyone becomes a victim to the heinous crime, and that includes us. The aftermath of it all afflicts us to the core, and stabs us with a dagger imbibed with something to keep us remembering about it for days. It haunts, it affects, and most painfully, it lingers around our minds long after the credits begin to roll. The eerie atmosphere that it built keeps us surrounded in it, and completely locked us in to let ourselves experience the harrowing effects of everything laid out. The last hour being the most disturbing and emotionally-challenging, is charged with so many substances that harmed our comfort.


However, it is also perhaps the one that cut the most corners for every scene got closer and closer to depicting the total damage done to the injury of our characters. Its edge is too sharp that it becomes staggering, and it is in that exact hour where our feelings truly got tested. In those unforgettable moments, Diaz accomplished exactly what he wanted us to realize in an unabridged manner. Though some scenes seriously kept us thinking about what’s going on, it didn’t do anything whatsoever to keep us disinterested. In fact, they just boosted our excitement for the final hour wherein things got darker and more psychologically affecting. What makes it stand out from the others in its genre is the variety. Every single one in its four-hour phases contain different themes and topics that get discussed deeply. They are accompanied by applause-worthy actors and the brilliant acting that they have shown – all of which have been affecting.


Perhaps Norte is that Filipino drama wherein over-exaggeration to the situations are simply nowhere to be found, for every moment felt too real to be grasped. In every scene and every shot, you can feel the layered depth that is added onto it. Each frame places you in the exact same moment that the characters are in, and it breathes right into you. It lets you feel the mood, and allows you to perceive what goes on in it with different levels of immersion.There is calmness and serenity to everything right from the start, but it all gets disturbed by the noise emitted from the clarity and loudness blared out by its strong, multi-structured narrative. Specific shots in this marvel have particular stories to tell, and Lav’s option to just keep it focused on the exact frame for longer minutes continued to be stunning. There were amazing details in it, and they somehow enhanced the enchantment we were undergoing from its picturesque wide-shots. if one tries to stare at it   Each hour gets more and more compelling and progressively haunting. For every single plot point is a manipulative moment that plays with your feelings whether it puts you into discomfort or holds your hands in sentiment.


Norte shows that Lav never ceases to bring out the boldness that he has in his crafty mind and his passionately artful heart. His execution was immensely devoted to every single aspect of the film, and it is noticeably characteristic. Almost one-of-a-kind; almost only attributable to Lav Diaz himself in spite of suppressed hints to the works of other filmmakers. He is absolutely one Filipino filmmaker that thinks competitively, and you simply couldn’t argue about that with the totally ardent directing duties he carried without surrender in Norte. This work of his is certainly a Filipino drama masterpiece that must be treasured for ages and is something to be proud of. It is disturbing, it is powerful, but most importantly, it reflects the painfully real Filipino life.


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Catch Diaz’s latest film – Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis in select Philippine cinemas on March 26!


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