How much do we know about our country’s history? How much of it even concerns us now? We know that at some point, we lose interest studying or reading about it. Memorizing names and years just does not seem to be that significant anymore. However, we might need to give everything that we learned in our history classes a second thought when watching Lav Diaz’s Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.
The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time in May 2013. It gained much critical acclaim and was considered as one of the best films of 2013. Diaz is known for his lengthy films, and with Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan running for 250 minutes, fans of Diaz say that this is merely a music video in comparison to his other works.
Diaz mentioned in an interview that his films are “a discourse on how history affects humanity, and how it affects us as human beings, whether we realize it or not. Who you are now is a consequence of history – your cultural history, your nation’s history. You as an individual are a microcosm of that history, whether you like it or not.” With that said, this film is apparently not an easy pill to swallow.
The film introduces us first to Fabian, a brilliant young man with only one year left in Law School. Fabian is our typical megalomaniac, engulfed in his own intellect, this being immediately noticeable at the beginning of the film. Seeing punishment as a form of discipline, he even believes that if a person commits a crime, regardless if it is petty or not, that person must be killed, for what is the use of a criminal in our society? One cannot help but be engrossed by Fabian’s character; with his holier-than-thou attitude being so familiar because we do know people who are like him. We might even see a little Fabian in ourselves.
Also another main focus of the film is the married couple Joaquin and Eliza. On crutches when first introduced, Joaquin a typical hardworking father who struggles to provide for his family. His wife, Eliza, also shares the same struggle. Their family is unfortunate enough to watch their plans of having a business go down the drain, forcing them to borrow money from their landlady Magda, who gives the familiar matapobre vibe. Though agreeing to help the couple, Magda’s assistance is never enough.
One night, Fabian witnesses the cruelty of Magda first-hand and ends up killing her and her daughter. Joaquin is unjustly accused of the murder and gets imprisoned, the innocent being held captive while the guilty roams free. This is a classic exemplification of the adage “Not all criminals are in prison and not all prisoners are criminals,” which is also a persistent problem in our country, where murders and crimes remain unsolved and are sometimes kept hidden.
With all these transpiring events, Eliza is the character that catches our sympathy. One cannot imagine the burden that she has to shoulder. Without her husband, she has to work twice as hard to sustain their family, like the typical loving mother who would do anything for her family. Her struggles are similar to how most poor Filipino families struggle. There is no need to make the idea more heart-wrenching as these struggling families are all around us.
This film hits more than a little too close to home. It hits us hard with reality. Crime, injustice, poverty, pride and even faith are all found in this film, and we get to taste every single bit of them for the whole four hours. The length of the film can be overwhelming, but it is meant to convey the idea of the passage of time. Months go by and Fabian becomes a miserable little lamb lost in his own thoughts. He struggles to overcome the voice of his conscience while Joaquin struggles inside prison. Four hours gives us enough time to take in our thoughts and feelings on what we witness.
Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan is not a film that most would enjoy because it is not the typical para-sa-masa Filipino film. The intense drama that it portrays is truly not easy to digest if we are not mentally prepared. It is, however, very intellectually stimulating if we look at it at a different perspective. It is the kind of film that makes a lasting impact and just stays with us from the moment we step out of the theatre until we lie down on our beds and when we wake up the next morning. In short, we cannot help but contemplate. We may have to remind ourselves that this is just a film, but it feels like the real deal. It seems so real that we can taste the blood, the guilt, the grief and struggle. There are only a few films that are capable of haunting our thoughts for a long time, and this film is certainly one of them.
History depends on whoever is writing it. We only know things from the past because we have read them from books and when we research online, but what about those events that occurred but were not written down? Are they still a part of history?
Viewing films are sometimes categorized under the form of escapism. That fact, in itself, is not a bad thing. We often watch movies that consist of great action with good quality animation and effects that get us on the edge of our seats. Furthermore, we would even pay a good amount of money just to watch these latest Hollywood movies on the big screen, but how about we give our locally produced films a second chance? We might be surprised that we have a lot to learn from them.