Norte, the End of History – film review

Lav Diaz, at 55 a semi-legendary veteran of the Asian avant-garde, believes in space and time. Space for his stories to breathe; time for them to grow and develop. The Filipino filmmaker’s features clock in at a barely programmable five, six, eight hours. His latest, Norte, the End of History, is a relative tiddler at 250 minutes. No wonder western distributors, previously Diaz-shy, have seized it.

Four hours contain three interconnected tales inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Fabian (Sid Lucero), a law school dropout turned anarchist, murders a moneylender and her daughter. Penurious family man Joaquin (Archie Alemania) is wrongly jailed. His wife (Angeli Bayani) is forced on to the streets as a vegetable cart vendor.

Each male character has moments to dazzle: the anarchist with his speeches, the injustice victim with his vaultings into the otherworldly (dream sequences, a “levitation”). But there are longueurs along the way. The convict’s story sparks to life mainly in adversity (a brief, electrifying interplay with a brutal prison kingpin). And the “Raskolnikov” hero vanishes for long chunks, awkwardly re-engaging with us when he returns. Masterpiece? Not for me. Masterly elements, for sure. Spurts of vivid violence and dialectical debate. And some lapidary landscapes given visionary Lebensraum; though let’s avoid world-domination language or we’ll be up all night debating the leash-room we should allow ambitious ideologues and/or overambitious auteurs.

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