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Norte, the End of History [Blu-ray] [UK Import]
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In this reimagining of Crime and Punishment, set in the northern Philippine province of Luzon, Fabian, a law-school drop-out, frustrated with his country's never-ending cycle of betrayal and apathy, commits a horrific double murder; a gentle family man, Joaquin, takes the blame and receives a life sentence, leaving behind his wife Eliza and two children, whilst Fabian roams free, and is taken over by evil. Joaquin is a simple man who finds life in prison more tolerable when something mysterious and strange starts happening to him.
Blickpunkt: Film Kurzinfo
Bewegendes Sittengemälde der Philippinen, in dem ein Unschuldiger für ein Verbrechen verantwortlich gemacht wird, während seine Familie hungernd zurückbleibt. --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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The film is a loose adaptation of Crime and Punishment, except with a Filipino setting and the story is changed a bit from the novel (the ending in Lav's film is deeply ambiguous unlike the novel). It's shot in Diaz's long take style. Often the shots are still and there's hardly any camera movement. At first, it seems like a gimmick but as the film progresses, you fall into its rhythm and the long takes really work well here. The film is also extremely sad and depressing (especially in the 2nd half) showing the desperation of life in the Philippines (but it really could take place anywhere). It is still a powerful, haunting movie that will leave you dazed afterwards.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Anyone who has sat through the epic four hour plus "Norte, The End of History," deserves a medal. "Norte" is the product of Lav Diaz, the Filipino auteur who has already completed seven films that are even LONGER than this one! When he wishes to introduce each new scene, Diaz has a penchant for holding establishing shots for a minute or two, which can be infuriating. Be forewarned: there is some interesting material here but one has to be extremely patient to appreciate any of it!
Diaz's "Norte" is set in the Phillipines and revolves around three interconnected characters. The prime mover (and perhaps most interesting of the three) is the antagonist, Fabian, a law school dropout who seeks to punish anyone who transgresses his personal moral code. Fabian's idea is to eliminate the "bad elements" in Filipino society. While his friends agree that society must change, Fabian, the bitter psychopath and reactionary, berates all those who believe in "all talk and no action."
In contrast, husband and wife Eliza and Joaquin, come from a poor background and are dependent on a local moneylender, Magda, for their sustenance. When Eliza pawns a precious family ring, Joaquin tries to convince Magda to sell it back to him. When he can't pay her price, Joaquin impulsively chokes Magda and runs off after a housekeeper witnesses the event. Later, Fabian is passing by on the street and sees Magda turn Eliza away at her door, after requesting another loan. Magda's rough treatment of Eliza is enough justification for Fabian to later enter Magda's home and kill the moneylender along with her innocent teenage daughter.
Joaquin is later implicated in Magda's murder (due to the circumstantial evidence against him) and is forced to accept a plea bargain of life in prison. Eliza is forced to sell vegetables on the street for a living, in order to take care of her children, who are in the care of a family friend. Meanwhile, Joaquin must adjust to prison life and survives a brutal attack by a predatory inmate. Later that inmate falls sick and Joaquin, in true Christian fashion, ministers to him, in a great act of forgiveness.
Echoing Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," Fabian is haunted by the memory of committing the two murders and eventually digs up money he had stolen and later buried from Magda's house and gives it to Eliza. Fabian, however, remains deeply troubled and on a visit to his sister, who owns a large farm, ends up raping her.
Now with a little money, Eliza is finally able to visit her beloved Joaquin. On the way back, she tragically dies in a plane crash. We see Joaquin (apparently now deceased) levitating, as if he's moving closer to God, attaining some kind of sainthood. Can we assume that Joaquin killed himself or died from grief, following the death of Eliza in the plane crash? Possibly but it's not entirely clear.
The randomness of the death of two good people, Eliza and Joaquin, is contrasted with Fabian, an evildoer, who very much continues to live. Perhaps Diaz is saying sometimes there is no justice in this world and perhaps no God. Diaz hints that perhaps there is still hope as one of the concluding shots focuses on the innocent children of Eliza and Joaquin, who survive, along with the farm animals, who also represent innocence.
Neil Young writing in the "Hollywood Reporter," finds Diaz's characters lacking in complexity: "Fabian's transition from preening bohemian chatterbox to bestial psychotic is seldom convincing, but at least his character gets to change a little over the course of the years. Joaquin and Eliza are little more than plaster saints from beginning to end in a film which simplistically equates poverty with spiritual purity and fortitude."
Peter Sobcynski of "RogerEbert.com," notes that there "are moments of staggering beauty and power on display here," but also notes there are numerous scenes which are quite lugubrious or gratuitous: "The trouble is that there are also extended sequences in which so little happens that the effect is more tedious than hypnotic...This is mostly due to a screenplay that grows less and less psychologically sound the further it drifts from its inspiration--there is a long sequence when Eliza contemplates killing herself and her children that feels like a cheap shot and some of the cruelties on display in the final hour feel like attempts to jolt viewers that may have inevitably drifted off during the slower parts. For these moments to fully work, a filmmaker has to have earned them, and there are times in which Diaz hasn't completely done that."
A.O. Scott, writing in the "New York Times,"holds that "Norte's" value is connected to Diaz's social critique: "Mr. Diaz, patiently surveying the social and physical landscape with his beautiful, asymmetrical wide-screen compositions, makes inequality seem like an aspect of the local climate. The cruelty of laws and economic arrangements is obvious and intolerable, and yet there is no real sense that anything can be done."
"Norte, The End of History," does indeed highlight the tragedy of poverty and its attendant sense of class inequalities. Again, if you're patient enough to ignore some of the more tedious moments in the film, you'll be rewarded by scenes of what A.O. Scott terms, the film's "inexhaustible humanism."