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Odds and Ends: Norte, The End of History and Manakamana

Norte, The End of History (Lav Diaz, Philippines, 2013) – Gene Siskel Film Center / Rating: 9.7

Norte

Chicago movie buffs should make it a point to see Lav Diaz’s monumental Norte, the End of History, which will have its local premiere this Saturday, September 6, as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s ambitious Filipino Cinema series (and then screen only once more, on Saturday, September 27). This 4-hour-plus transposition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to the contemporary Philippines is easily one of the most important film events of the year. Diaz, a profoundly modern filmmaker, reminds us why Dostoevsky’s 19th-century novel will always be sadly relevant — because pretentious and confused young men will always come up with half-baked philosophical theories to justify their supposed moral superiority. Diaz’s real masterstroke, however, is to essentially split Dostoevsky’s protagonist into three separate characters: Fabian (Sid Lucero) is the chief Raskolnikov figure, a law-school dropout who commits the horrific and senseless double murder of a loan shark and her daughter; Joaquin (Archie Alemania), a family man and laborer, is falsely accused of the crime and sentenced to a lengthy prison term; Eliza (Angeli Bayani), Joaquin’s wife, must consequently roam the countryside and look for odds jobs in order to provide for her and Joaquin’s young children. By having Dostoevsky’s themes of crime, punishment and redemption correspond to three characters instead of one, Diaz retains the Russian author’s trademark first-person psychological intensity while also offering a panoramic view of society that more closely resembles that of Count Tolstoy. Please don’t let the extensive running time scare you: like Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, another favorite work of art that Norte resembles, not a minute of screen time here is wasted.

The complete schedule for the Filipino Cinema: New Directions/New Auteurs series can be found here.

Manakamana (Stephanie Spray/Pacho Velez, USA/Nepal, 2013) – On Demand / Rating: 8.1

Mailmaster

Let’s face it: the vast majority of what pass for feature documentaries these days are merely works of video journalism. In these “talking heads”-studded extravaganzas, which are increasingly clogging up precious space in America’s arthouse theaters, content is everything. The best that can be said about their cinematography and sound design is that they are “functional.” I happen to like some such movies but I also know damn well that I am likely to get the same thing out of watching them on an iPhone that I will get out of watching them on a 40-foot cinema screen. That’s why it brings me great pleasure to say that I recently caught up to Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana, a non-fiction film full of remarkable sights and sounds that proves again, if further proof is needed, that Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab is almost single-handedly rescuing the documentary form by producing non-fiction films of real aesthetic value. As in the SEL’s mesmerizing 2012 fishing-boat doc cum horror movie Leviathan, the focus here is more experiential (and experimental) than informational. The premise is that the camera stays inside of a 5×5-foot cable car as it makes 11 journeys, carrying visitors to and from the sacred “Manakamana temple,” through the remote Himalayan mountains in Nepal. Each of the 11 journeys was captured in a single 10-minute take on 16mm film and all of the edits between shots have been cleverly disguised by cover of darkness (a la Hitchcock’s Rope). The result is that viewers get to casually hang out with a wide swath of humanity — cell-phone-wielding teenagers, chatty elderly women, jamming musicians, sacrificial goats and even a couple of American tourists — and are asked to simply observe them against the background of an ever-changing jungle landscape. A fascinating, immersive experience.

Manakamana is now available for rental or purchase on various digital platforms, including iTunes.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

3 responses to “Odds and Ends: Norte, The End of History and Manakamana

  • John Charet

    Sorry, I have not looked at any of your posts in a while. Last week, I went back to college. I am taking CAB 180-052 this semester. The class is on Wednesday nights. I do not know If your classes run on Wednesdays, but it would be awesome to see you in person:) I have an interesting question, whenever you give your students a syllabus so they usually contact you by e-mail If they have a question or do they usually leave a comment on your site:) Keep up the great work as always:)

    • michaelgloversmith

      I have a Wednesday afternoon class (Intro to Film) at OCC that ends at 3:00 but I have to leave immediately upon dismissing it because I then have another class (History of Cinema) at Harold Washington College that begins at 5:30. In any case, you’re always welcome to stop by my Wednesday OCC class (it starts at 12:30). I’d also like to invite you to the Pop-Up Film Fest I’ve programmed, which will be held from October 21 – 24 at OCC. Film descriptions and showtimes can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/954093091283834/

      I hope you get to see NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY at the Siskel Center. That film is really something else.

  • Top Ten Films of 2014 | White City Cinema

    […] “We are at that point where no one owns history anymore. We make up our own histories.” The title of Norte, the End of History comes from these lines of dialogue, spoken during a philosophical rap session by a group of Filipino law students. One of them, Fabian (Sid Lucero), a recent college dropout, will soon commit a horrific double murder for no good reason. Writer/director Lav Diaz takes this premise from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment but puts it to the service of very different ends; I think he mostly wants to show how, over time, Fabian becomes increasingly tormented from within as a result of his actions, even while going unpunished by the law. Conversely, Joaquin (Archie Alemania), the family man who is unjustly charged with the crimes, not only retains but amplifies his original compassionate nature even after spending years in prison. This masterpiece, which at four hours and 15 minutes is actually Diaz’s shortest film to date, is also the first to receive distribution in the United State. One can only hope that Cinema Guild’s release will open the door to more of his works turning up on these shores in the future. More here. […]

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