Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan Review
Have you ever had one of those conversations with friends and family? The one about the things wrong with the Philippines and what we could do about it? Words such as discipline, corruption, poverty, and political will are often mentioned. Through Norte, Lav Diaz looks at and analyzes these ramblings and meditations. He navigates the landscape of the national psyche filtered through the lens of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s works. The end result is nothing but astonishing.
I confess that this is the first Lav Diaz film I’ve seen. Screenings for one are often rare due to their famous length. Clocking in at 4 hours and 10 minutes, Norte’s actually quite short for something in his filmography. The straightforward narrative also makes it even more accessible. Still, there’s good reason for such a running time. Diaz weaves his film with such finesse and richness. It’s saturated with political and social critique mixed with spiritual and literary allusions. One can’t help but feel awe at such a feat.
Norte plays with the idea of truth and history. It reminds us that, in these popular conversations, the self-repeating and defeatist nature of our history is often overlooked. Through the eyes of the protagonist Fabian, Diaz questions the very concept of “truth”, “facts”, and what we determine to be such. Fabian cites Aguinaldo’s betrayal and execution of Bonifacio, one of Philippine history’s greatest crimes, as the genesis for Philippine society’s rotten core. He shows how its unresolved nature is the saddest consequence of our collective amnesia and argues that it is one of the reasons why our republic continues to be terrible. His actions show how feeble humanity is; that we deserve to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Even the protagonist himself is a critique of history as Fabian is an allegory of the late Ferdinand Marcos.
The cast is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Sid Lucero is almost too compelling as Fabian. While it was certainly hard to empathize with him, he keeps us glued to his complex personal issues. His descent into depravity and inhumanity would make the cast of True Detective blush. Mae Paner as a usurious mother is so entertaining to watch. Archie Alemania is a revelation. He manages to give us a sympathetic paragon of Filipino virtue while serving as a satirizing critique of it at the same time. Lastly, the sublime Angela Bayani gives us another poignant portrayal in Eliza, the perfect mix of despair and hope.
While great, the film isn’t flawless. I was expecting more from Diaz’ long-takes especially from a master of the Philippine New Wave. Sure, they had substance but I didn’t find them as poetic as those of other auteurs such as Alix and Mendoza.
Norte shows us what the Republic of the Philippines is like and what it will continue to be. It is a sweeping portrait of a land plagued with injustice and a sorry excuse for a democracy. Its history is nothing but a forgotten rotting corpse.