Cannes still loves Lav
CANNES—The Philippines did not win any prize at the recently concluded 66th Cannes International Film Festival, but it was still a major triumph for the country which premiered four films, the biggest number in years.
Moreover, Lav Diaz’s “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” made waves as a contender for the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section, along with Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Death March.”
Erik Matti’s “On the Job” was featured in Directors’ Fortnight, while the digitally restored version of Lino Brocka’s “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag” was included in Cannes Classics.
Diaz’s film received a five-minute standing ovation when it screened at the Salle Debussy of the Palais on Thursday. This was widely reported online.
Screen on Screen’s Paddy Mulholland said: “Diaz is not known for his marketability… But ‘Norte’ has been drawing raves from critics at Cannes.”
New York-based critic Kenji Fujishima posted on Twitter: “Holy crap. That’s all I’ve got at the moment, but [“Norte” is] definitely one of my Cannes 2013 highlights.”
Diaz explained in eloquent Filipino why he was drawn to the film’s concept:
“Kontemporaryo at lumang isyu na di natin napapansing lumalaki, nagiging halimaw, napapabayaan hanggang sunog nang di maapula. Malalaking multo ito sa ating bayan. (A past/current issue that grows worse without being noticed, turning into a monster like a fire that spreads uncontrollably—huge ghosts that haunt our country.)”
The film is about apathy and gross injustice.
Screen Daily’s Jonathan Romney praised Diaz, who is renowned for 10-hour epics: “By comparison… ‘Norte’ is a miniature, but it’s also an accessible film, a superb piece of focused narrative.”
Romney singled out “the rhythmic editing and elegant camera moves, together with some poised compositions and sometimes vibrant lighting from cinematographer Lauro Rene Manda.”
He added: “Diaz has a reputation [for being] a hard director, but ‘Norte’ has grace, humanity and narrative verve aplenty, along with intellectual clout.”
“Norte” intertwines two strands of a Filipino story—that of a disgruntled law school dropout who murders a greedy usurer and that of a hapless construction worker who takes the fall for the crime.
“Norte” has been likened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” about one man’s fate juxtaposed with an entire society’s history.
Said Grantland.com’s Wesley Morris: “‘Norte’ has the title of a war epic and the soul and scope of a great novel. [It] takes you to the brink of despair over and over without ever venturing into the cosmic cruelty of… European directors.”
Morris lauded the actors, led by Angeli Bayani and Sid Lucero for their “full, lived-in performances.”
Morris expressed a common sentiment among Thursday’s viewers: “This is the sort of masterpiece the main competition has yet to produce, an astonishing work of life, death and art that isn’t bluntly political, vapidly violent, or completely self-obsessed. [It’s] a crime for the directors in the (main competition) jury… like Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee… not to have the opportunity to see it.”
Cinematographer Manda told the Inquirer, “The (awarded Hollywood filmmakers) Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel) and (Oscar-winning actress) Frances McDormand watched ‘Norte’ on its second screening Friday and stayed for the whole four hours.”
Matter of fate
As far as Diaz was concerned though, his film’s French outing was a matter of fate. “Just good timing,” Diaz told the Inquirer. “We finished the film. I did a rough cut; the Cannes committee liked it. A filmmaker would be a hypocrite if he claimed he was not interested in screening his film in Cannes.”
Shooting the film was fortuitous as well. Diaz recalled: “(Producer) Raymond Lee called one day to say he had a story/idea for me, that it was pang-Lav Diaz. I was cool about it and committed to do it.”
Next came a flurry of phone calls, e-mails, coffee-shop chats, plus discussions in Cubao, Dumaguete, Ilocos Norte and Marikina.
The actual shoot in La Paz, Ilocos Norte, was smooth-sailing, but they had to endure oppressive weather. “We fought the heat, but it was liberating.”
It was Diaz’s first time in the French fest, though he had won twice in the Orizzonti section of the Venice film festival (“Death in the Land of Encantos” won special mention in 2007; “Melancholia,” the top prize in 2008).
Cannes, Diaz said, “is a great forum for cinema—akin to the ancient agora. It’s hot, noisy and chaotic.”
Un Certain winner
Top Un Certain Regard honor went to Rithy Panh’s “The Missing Picture,” from Cambodia.
Panh told the Inquirer that Southeast Asian cinema was slowly, but surely, making a headway in the international scene.
Southeast Asian cinema is marked by “dynamism,” he said. “Our films are crossing boundaries.”
He pointed out that his own film, like most movies from the Southeast Asian region, tells “a very personal story that somehow resonates with foreign audiences and is considered universal. They are touched by the story.”
He related that his country was ravaged by tragedy in recent history. “Our country faced destruction. It’s good for us to experience this rebirth through cinema. Totalitarianism cannot destroy our culture.”
He gave precious advice to other filmmakers in Southeast Asia: “Believe in what you want to do. Make good films. We have to keep fighting so that our voices will be heard.”
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