The festival’s standout film, “Norte, End of History,” examines interlocking crises of Filipino society over more than four hours. | CINEMA GUILD
By Bill Stamets/For Sun-Times Media
Five compelling dramas from the Philippines will screen in the “Filipino Cinema: New Directions/New Auteurs” series through September. Receiving their Chicago premieres are recent Filipino features from international festivals.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Filipino film fan,” posts Joel Shepard at the site of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. In June this film curator screened the Siskel lineup plus eight other new dramas from the Cinemalaya, CineFilipino and Cannes festivals.
Characters include soap opera extras, a bootleg DVD vendor and a third-place finisher of the reality TV show “Star Factor” doing infomercials for an elliptical trainer. Most of the dialogue is in Tagalog (the national language since independence from the U.S. in 1946) with English subtitles. English is spoken too.
Marriage and money are recurring issues in this multi-genre showcase. A poignant tale redolent with Tawi-Tawi customs, “Thy Womb” by Brillante Mendoza stars Nora Aunor as an infertile midwife helping her husband find a new wife. Jerrold Tarog’s “If Only” unfolds on a wedding day with flashbacks. Grieving for her late secret lover, the bride finds out the hired videographer is his younger brother.
A philanderer inflicts a toxic domesticity in Erik Matti’s visceral “Rigodon.” A star-crossed romance shot on location is the backdrop for Jeffrey Jeturian’s “The Bit Player,” a bittersweet tale about background actors maltreated by the crew.
“Norte, End of History” (3 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sept. 27) by director Lav Diaz is the standout of the fest. This four-star saga is a 4-hour, 10-minute inquest into the interlocking crises of Filipino society, from doomsday cults to state assassins. Long takes and widescreen landscapes make for powerful cinema with nods to auteurs Tarkovsky and Weerasethakul.
In the opening scene, Fabian (Sid Lucero) confronts his friends with his uncompromising philosophy. “Wow! Anti-anarchism. Anti-existentialism. Anti-God. Anti-everything!” responds one law school classmate. “My God, Fabian, you’re a reactionary. Or maybe just a criminal.” Though joking, she rightly suspects where theory is taking him.
Leaving the cafe, they come upon a bleeding woman convulsing in the street. While bystanders seek aid, Fabian looks into the distance. This will be one of many unsettling stares in a film that deploys time in the style of so-called “slow cinema.”
“Norte, End of History” updates the Russian intellectual currents of the “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoevsky’s anti-nihilist novel. “Truth is dead. So is meaning,” declares Fabian. “It’s more than post-modernism.” Although the 1866 novel is not on his reading list, Fabian will commit the same crimes as Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, and worse.
How to make the world better? “Kill the bad elements,” prescribes Fabian. The targeted types on his hypothetical list: “molesting priest,” “corrupt policeman” and “abusive husband.” Diaz, who is working on films about two of his friends killed for their politics, labels his anti-hero “fascist” in interviews.
Literary critic Philip Rahv diagnosed Raskolnikov as mystified by his murderous acts: “He must continually spy on himself in a desperate effort to penetrate his own psychology.” Diaz observes Fabian the same way, framing the Philippines writ large.
FILIPINO CINEMA: new directions/new auteurs
When: Saturday through Sept. 27
Where: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State
Tickets: $11 (students $7, members $6)