The ‘Norte’ experience

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I’m pretty sure—is there a word like “un-pretty?—that you’ve also had those high-pressure days when you feel like that subject molded and sculpted by Julie Lluch. Yup, it’s her self-portrait of a once mad or maddened hausfrau, stressed out, put upon, on the verge of a breakdown or biting off someone’s ear.

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I’ve always identified with the work. I still see myself in it. Each time I am summoned by she who writer Pablo Tariman calls a living goddess of literature, I take a few minutes to admire the work all over again.

On September 15, Gilda, who cringes when she’s called a goddesss, Julie, Anna Leah Sarabia and I went on a short (in terms of distance covered) field trip to Trinoma, an Ayala Mall in Quezon City, to watch a long (four hours and some) film: Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan by Lav Diaz.

I came out of the cinema in dire need of a strong, stiff drink. Harsh truth in the hands of a master like Diaz, guided by a script he worked on with Rody Vera, does that to me. It shakes me to the core of my being. Hours after the experience (for it was that, a total experience, not a show that you could distance yourself from), Julie and I still felt all shook up. I tried to find the precise word to describe what we were reeling from.

“Harrowing?” I asked Julie. I tried not to belittle the moments, the hours shared by picking just that one word.

Julie could only nod, her brows meeting as though we were both sorting out a puzzle. By then we had said our goodbyes to Anna and later, Gilda.

Norte has no music score so all the more viewers like me feel the immediacy of what the characters are going through, the ambient sounds of real lives being lived. We hear the squeals of a pig (already a foreshadowing of what is to come), rain falling, scissors snipping, wind whooshing on fields of green, the sea water breaking on the shore, cars zipping fast on the northern freeway, the crackle of fire, a baby’s heartbreaking cry after being the sole survivor of a bus crash, and more.

Yes, the film’s length seems to reflect its Dostoevsky-inspired (the novelist who wrote those thick tomes we had to study in English 4 or 5) theme of a crime that goes unpunished, where the one who is punished severely is innocent Joaquin (played by Archie Alemania) and, by extension, his family.

But the one who suffers and descends into his bestial form is the intellectual Fabian (Sid Lucero), the once decent guy, a brilliant law school dropout who turns into a beast descending into a private hell of his making. The film doesn’t sell the idea of redemption (perhaps, it’s the innocent man who is redeemed because he remains good and helpful in the prison of his days).

But that’s the thing with a Lav Diaz film—it has layers and layers of meaning. It deprives those who are seeking entertainment (it was free movie day for seniors living in Quezon City) some kind of satisfactory closure. No wonder some senior citizens in the audience vehemently and vocally objected to how the story ended with no justice in sight, no restitution, no remorse.

I can imagine the antagonist Fabian living to a ripe old age, combing graying hair in a town up north, managing to live with his un-appeased conscience. That is, until I remind myself that in his bestiality, he is actually godless and conscienceless.
“But then that’s life!” Gilda exclaimed earlier.

Up to this hour, I am still asking myself many questions about Philippine society and revolution, the validity of bearing arms, what is social justice, what is this pervading sense of hopelessness, and what’s the use of another electoral exercise?

OK, that’s it. I’m rising to have my dinner that I am suddenly grateful for. Oh, let there be a sliver of redeeming grace in this sorrow-filled country!

Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan is on extended run at Trinoma in Quezon City and Glorietta in Makati City until September 23.
(This article originally appeared in the author’s blog, brooksidebaby.blogspot.com on September 16.)

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