Saturday, March 15, 2014

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz, Cinemanila 2013)

Ilocos Norte is the birthplace of President Ferdinand Marcos, the disgraced dictator whose legacy of corruption and abuses continue to affect the lives of Filipinos. The betrayal of two Ilocanos led to his ouster. Ilocos Norte is also home to the parents of Antonio Luna, a temperamental revolutionary general killed by forces of President Emilio Aguinaldo. The accumulated acts of corruption, abuses, and treachery by our national leaders have forever seared the Filipino identity. We have become a nation of betraying Judases.

Fabian Viduya (Sid Lucero) shares a few common traits with fellow Ilocanos, Marcos and Luna. He is a brilliant law student on par with a young, bar topnotcher Marcos. He is also a revolutionary with the brute rage of a Hulk. But he is more than a Hulk,  he is a Bressonian superman. He feels that being an intellectual superior binds him to no law. He acts rashly on his outrageous proposals. He guts out evil beings and destroys dysfunctional institutions.

Meanwhile, Eliza Atillano (Angeli Bayani) gets discombobulated with wordy laws. She agreed to her husband pleading guilty without understanding the consequences of such action. She sells vegetables and pawns her things in order to feed her two children and a sister.

The husband, Joaquin Atillano (Archie Alemania), is falsely accused of killing a much-hated money lender. His one bout of angry outburst was used as evidence of his deep hatred for Magda. He languishes in jail and yearns for a rare visit by Eliza. He dreams constantly of his family.

One dream of his eerily reminds me of  a major tragedy that befell our country within the last 12 months. The drone-cam shot of the village makes me recall the aerial shot of a devastated Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan struck the city. The village is dreary and devoid of life. The dreams or nightmares are portent of tragic events that will befall the saintly Atillano family.

The bus tragedy scene prefigures the GV Florida bus crash that took the life of comedian Arvin Tado Jimenez. Days before his death, Tado allegedly posted on his Instagram a photo with the caption: 'North or South...Cemetery?' He died alright in the northern part of Luzon.

North Cemetery?

Ilocos Norte sure looks like a cemetery with Fabian on the loose. Directly or indirectly, he causes lots of deaths in this film. He is mad north-northwest. But, he can be compassionate at times. He hates families being torn apart because of absentee parents so he tries his best to help the hardworking Eliza. He dares his friends to take up the cause of an innocent Joaquin.

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan is a rare colored epic film by Lav Diaz. Eschewing intense chiaroscuro images, he partners with veteran cinematographer Larry Manda to come up with dazzling images of a serene, picturesque, sometimes hellish Ilocos Norte. Take a look at the picture above and you'll see that Diaz repeated the burning scenes from the Russian film Mirror and his own film Hesus, Rebolusyunaryo. The cliff scene recalls the Nora Aunor and baby scene from Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. Staring down at the abyss, both mothers contemplate doing away with their children and betraying their own calling.

A huge chunk of the film's 10 million peso budget must have been allotted to procuring the cameras befitting the vision of Diaz. The images are so crisp and clear that sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed an errant prop during Wakwak's Christmas carolling scene. There is a February calendar hanging on the prison cell's steel bars. There are also unexpected chuckles heard during Magda's cellphone scene.

The viewer friendly Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan shows Diaz at his storytelling best. Every scene and segment are necessary. Every discussion, even the initial nose-bleed-inducing intellectual discourse at a cafe, is relevant. Unlike his longer epics which contains a few wayward discussions, Norte is edited compactly with a running time of about 4 hours. This makes it the perfect Diaz film to recommend to newbies. Kudos also to co-writer Rody Vera.

Is Norte, The End of History the best local film of 2013? 

I don't know. I took a Yolanda-induced break from cinema viewings during the Cinema One festival run. I boycotted Cinemanila because of its maddening, fucked-up way of scheduling screenings. What I do know is I will watch Norte again on an Ayala cinema later this month. It is that good!

Updated (May 7):

I encountered a minor plot irritant during my second viewing of the film. However, I still believe that Norte should be the first Lav Diaz film that newcomers should watch.

I am not satisfied with the actions of Eliza after the incarceration of her husband. She is shown contemplating the killing of her children. She may not be the cook of an aborted eatery business. But, there are other jobs that she can tackle. The hardworking Ilocana is perfectly capable of eking out a living and feeding four people. We did see her vending vegetables later in the film.

Although the cliff scene is arguably implausible, it is necessary within the context of the last scene. Without the earlier scene, the poignant scene showing Ading with the orphans loses much of its power. This time though I agree that Ading is capable of killing the kids. She is lacking some nuts and bolts up there in her head.

The film seems to suggest that every Filipino has the potential to kill/betray their kin, family members, friends, disciples, and neighbors. Those who do so is either angry or crazy. The traitor Fabian is both batty and enraged.

A lot of us are outraged with the widespread scale of corruption in the high echelons of our government. But, as Fabian pointed out, will our collective rants and complaints eradicate the greedy, evil ones? Hmmmm, those crazy ideas of Fabian begin to make sense...

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