Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lav Diaz's "The Woman Who Left" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 9 - 10

Much was said at the time concerning 2014's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the director at the forefront of Filipino cinema. Not least of which it ranking on notable Films of the Year lists, cited as a highlight of Cannes, and with it's theatrical distribution the following year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike the larger body of Lav Diaz's work, this four hour color feature diverged from what's come to be called Slow Cinema in that "Norte, the End of History" is as much a dynamic personal fiction with the ebb and flow of a narrative drama, set within the duration and structural expanses of Slow Cinema's spacial ambiance. This vantage from the perspective of the interpersonal is the force that moves the viewer through the film's inner and outer landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". More than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, as the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". What the director most shares with the Russian novelist is is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of his films; the gravitas, unrestrained philosophical questioning, cryptic humor and brief outcroppings of melodramatic tendencies all manifest in similar fashion. Where "Norte, the End of History" differs most in regard to the great Russian novel, is that Dostoevsky's relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.Returning to Russian literature for inspiration and the general structure of its social and ethical concerns, "The Woman Who Left" is another of Diaz's addressing of the operations of poverty, postcolonial malaise, corruption, social injustice and failing rural communities in his home country. Loosely based on a resetting of Leo Tolstoy's “God Sees the Truth, but Waits", this winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival was among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2016, operating as both a closely tied personal tale, and a larger social narrative as an "Epic, Intimate Tale of Injustice".

In interview with The Guardian, and Cinema-Scope, Diaz has asserted that much of his work is the exploration of historic epochs, whether the years under Ferdinand Marcos, or colonization under Spain, acting as a contextualization and critique, he hopes to depict the effects of the country's vicious cycle with power through the lives of its populace. Among a small body of directors found across this archipelago nation working independently, Diaz is without the backing of any studio, often relying on outside international festival funds to tell their stories of modern life in their developing country. Working in a neorealist style, often in long takes and extended duration, he and compatriot Brillante Mendoza have made their life's work documenting a time rife with conflict and change. In the face of the ascension of Duterte to the presidency, "Filipino Filmmakers Continue to Shed Light on the Forgotten", yet there is some question whether as to how long they will will have the freedom to document and explore such subjects. Here for a brief two day run at Northwest Film Forum, this Guardian and Film Comment Film of the Week pick finds itself in an environment abundantly receptive to the director's challenging duration, political content and technical form. This past year saw the Film Society at Lincoln Center host "Time Regained: The Films of Lav Diaz" as the first American retrospective of the director's work, and in another first, an online retrospective hosted by "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock". Included in this cinephile streaming event of the year, "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz", Mubi has programmed the ten hour "Evolution of a Filipino Family", the eight hour "Heremias" from 2006, the documentary "Storm Children: Book One", 2011's "Century of Birthing", 2008's award winning "Melancholia" and contender for masterpiece among the director's durational narrative works, the 2014 Locarno Film Festival winner, "From What is Before".