Latest Review – Norte, the End of History (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan) (LFF)


Norte, the End of History (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan)

Wacky O Productions/ Lav Diaz / 2013 / Philippines

Running Time: 250 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Genre: Drama

Certificate: 18

Image: Colour

Language: Tagalog

Subtitles: English


The works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky have been used as the basis and the inspiration behind a great number of cinematic works over the years, from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Hakuchi’, his 1951 adaptation of ‘The Idiot’ to Richard Brooks’ ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ (1958), Woody Allen’s ”Match Point’ (2005) and Gus van Sant’s ‘Paranoid Park’ (2008), however the cinema of the Philippines is most certainly not amongst the most common film regions that spring to mind when we consider this subject.

Clocking in at just over four hours and ten minutes (incredibly short by Lav Diaz’s standards) this latest offering from the acclaimed Filipino filmmaker, one of the most notable pioneers of the Philippine New Wave film movement, takes its inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s magnum opus, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and transports the Russian master’s piercing study of mental anguish and moral dilemmas from the streets of Mid-Nineteenth Century Saint Petersburg to the contemporary province of Ilocos Norte, in the Northwest corner of Luzon (the largest of the three islands in the Philippines).

In the allegorical role of the impoverished ex-student, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the infamous protagonist (or should that be antagonist) of Dostoyevsky’s novel, we have the anarchic and permanently debt ridden law student, Fabian (an excellent Sid Lucero): a young man increasingly frustrated by the state of Philippine society and national politics.

After murdering the hostile, power-hungry moneylender, Magda (Mae Paner) (to whom he is increasingly indebted) and her young daughter who happens to catch him in the act, Fabian is soon prompted down a dark path of self-destruction, leaving an innocent man, Joaquin (Archie Alemania) incarcerated for the crime and his wife, Eliza (Angeli Bayani) forced to sell fruit and vegetables on the streets in order to raise their young children and survive.

Aesthetically, the film is very well shot (often captured in long, still, single-takes), clearly directed and, despite the running time and the lethargic pacing, actually proves quite compelling for large portions of the film.

At 250 minutes the film inevitably begins to lose focus towards the latter stages, and although never uninteresting, I did find my attention wandering slightly around the three-quarter mark.

Norte is ultimately a very stark and minimalistic film, fused with alluring imagery (interestingly it is his first colour feature in over a decade), close attention to detail and a scathing critique on contemporary Philippine society economics and Filipino class politics.

Whilst the film may not always develop the points it raises to their full potential, what it does do particularly well is to paint a very affecting ad hard hitting portrait of the struggles of life amongst the poorer classes.

Though perhaps not the masterpiece that some have hailed it to be, Norte nevertheless proves a powerful, mature and intelligently constructed slice of Philippine New Wave cinema.

With Sean Ellis’s British-Filipino co-produced ‘Metro Manila’ having recently been selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, with the Philippines selecting Hannah Espia’s independent drama ‘Tansit’ as their own entry, and with films such as Brillante Mendoza’s ‘Thy Womb’, Gym Lumbera’s ‘Anak Araw’ and a newly restored print of the late Lino Brocka’s searing 1975 drama ‘Manila in the Claws of Light’ all being screened at this year’s 57th BFI London Film Festival, it is wonderful to see Filipino cinema starting to garner the wider International acclaim it deserves.




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