First things first, this film is over four hours long. Even the most avid of film fans will find that butt-numbing run-time a bit of a patience tester, and that’s before we get to grips with Norte’s particular brand of aggressive melancholy and art-house existentialism. That’s not to say that is a film to be avoided, but it probably is exactly the kind of film you’d only watch once.
We’re initially introduced to Fabian (Sid Lacero) with his friends as they discuss politics and its effects on their way of life, as he seems to have developed a type of nihilism which leads him to believe that everything he knows – from his family all the way up to the high reaches of his country’s government – is rotten beyond repair and needs to be destroyed. Fabian shares a nasty landlord/loan-shark with Joaquin (Archie Alemania) and Eliza (Angeli Biyani), a happily married couple who find themselves in financial despair when Joaquin is severely injured and unable to work.
A vicious double murder – for which the wrong person is accused and imprisoned for – is the lynchpin for the rest of the movie… and even that doesn’t happen until almost 90 minutes in. Writer/director Lav Diaz is in absolutely no rush to tell this story, with every scene meandering in and out of necessity, and while almost every shot composition manages to show off the naturalistic beauty of the Philippines, it’s still abundantly clear that this film could’ve been just as easily told in half the time.
If you manage to put the run-time aside, there is something of profound insight and quiet importance at work here, with fantastically nuanced performances driving the story home. The sub-textual battle of good and evil, love and hate, within everyone is brought forward, and Diaz discovers the simultaneous joy and meaninglessness to everyday life. Unfortunately, it’s the negative aspects that Diaz seems certain is going to be the eventual winner, and after two hundred and fifty minutes the constant downer buzz is going to severely affect your mood. So like we said, it's well worth the watch, but probably just the once.