Mostly wanted to watch this so I’d stop getting it confused with Human Flow, but also it has an interesting description, a killer poster, and four-star reviews from some Respected Critics. Maybe re-reading the writeups before watching would’ve helped, since I didn’t enjoy this at all. Smeared handheld shaky cam indifferently follows people around, then follows someone else – three aimless boys with shitty jobs (at least one has been fired) in three different countries. No lighting either, and I’m wondering why this is even a movie, then something amazing finally happens an hour in, when the camera follows a kid peeing and unexpectedly goes inside an anthill, providing a smooth transition to a new segment along with a memorable visual metaphor.

Won a top prize at Locarno (same section as The Challenge, Destruction Babies, Donald Cried). On letterboxd, Autumn responded to the “fascinating visual scheme,” which I looked for but did not detect, Felipe calls “the image texture a true aesthetic weapon,” which I don’t guess I’m a fan of. Vadim raves about the movie’s originality in Filmmaker, Cinema Scope voted it a film of the year, and after reading Leo Goldsmith’s article, I can finally wrap my stupid head around the reasons for everyone’s formal interest. Glenn Kenny in the Times has a more mixed reaction:

A scene of teenage boys engaging in tentative sex play with one another for a webcam show is presented with sufficient flatness of affect to make a viewer suspect that Mr. Williams is also interested in blurring the lines between verisimilitude and tedium. Just when you think you’ve got the movie pegged, it pulls a daring switch of perspective. While the thrill of that little coup is short-lived, it suggests that Mr. Williams may come up with something more substantial with his next feature.

“If you’re doing a revolution, you should have the guts to kill a person.”

Theoretically, this kind of thing is right up my alley: four-hour, long-take, wide-shot foreign film-fest fare with an elliptical ending. But I dunno, I feel like it made its point in a few dialogue scenes scattered throughout, and the rest of the movie was either waiting around, or following a relentlessly grim plot to its lack of conclusion.

Crime and Punishment, but Fabian (Sid Lucero of Independencia) is our Raskolnikov who does the crime, and Joaquin is his neighbor who receives the punishment. It’s hard to know if Fabian is tormented by his crime, or if he’s just an asshole – after all, he seems equally tormented in the first hour of the movie before killing the moneylender woman and her daughter as he does at the end. After the homicide, the middle half of the movie follows imprisoned Joaquin, locked up with a bunch of not-bad guys and one violent psychopath named Wakwak, and Joaquin’s family led by Eliza (Angeli Bayani of Ilo Ilo and Lav’s Melancholia).

Prison visit:

I think Eliza’s sister Ading isn’t too bright, so Eliza is caring for her two kids and the sister, barely making ends meet by selling vegetables. We think a turning point has come when washed-up Fabian finally confronts Eliza after four years, guiltily giving her the cash he got from selling his murder-scene loot, then coercing his former law professors to take up her husband’s case. We assume the movie’s heading towards Fabian turning himself in (as did Peter Lorre and Markku Toikka). Instead he takes his war on society to a new level, visiting his family home only to rape his sister and kill his dog. Meanwhile Eliza visits her imprisoned husband for the first time in years then dies in a bus crash on the way home. Then Fabian goes for a boat ride, the end.

Played Cannes UCR with Stranger by the Lake and Bastards and Manuscripts Don’t Burn – semi-comprehensible stories with unpleasant characters were in vogue that year.

Fabian sleeping with his best friend’s girl:

Eliza fails to find sympathy from the doomed moneylender:

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope:

An angry narrative by any definition, Norte portrays a country accursed, whose curse, by extension, spills over onto its people; around this curse, furthermore, the backstories of two families weave a subplot of marked importance. In order to prove that their family was doomed to fail from the start, Fabian torments his sister at the end of the movie (the girl is also in a cult, which seems to be a common practice among Filipinos: see Century of Birthing). Their parents, as it turns out, had moved to the US, leaving the kids in the care of hired help. Joaquin’s wife blames his subsequent misfortunes on herself for not letting him work abroad. Rejecting those who have left, the country is twice as harsh on those who have stayed, a theme Diaz has developed before, particularly in Butterflies Have No Memories.

M. D’Angelo:

If Fabian and Joaquin are meant to be distinct individuals, the film is “merely” endless and pointless; I very much fear, alas, that Diaz intends them as class representatives, in which case it’s insultingly schematic verging on outright stupid.

V. Rizov:

Diaz is a formidable talent, eliciting flawlessly naturalistic performances and exhibiting casual visual panache. At 250 minutes, Norte is extremely watchable, and there’s the rub: it’s reasonable to expect transcendence at that sustained length, but instead we get a relatively straightforward tract on political abuses, Christian dogma and social inequity in Filipino society.


The Day Before The End (2016, Lav Diaz)

Also watched this short I found online. Not sure that Norte justified its apocalyptic subtitle, and this short is no Last Night either. Nice b/w photography but not too fun – I think I prefer narrative Lav to experimental. People are rehearsing Shakespeare in public, then wading through torrential rain. This has an IMDB entry, and its description is better than the actual movie: “In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.”

yelling Shakespeare in unison:

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.


Amateur
Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.


Badger
Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.


Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.


Deloused
I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Equilibrium
Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Falling
Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).


Grandad
Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.


Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.


Invincible
Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.


Jesus
I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.


Knell
Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.


Legacy
Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.


Masticate
Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.


Nexus
Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.


Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.


P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.


Questionnaire
While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.


Roulette
German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.


Split
Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.


Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.


Utopia
Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.


Vacation
Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.


Wish
Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.


Xylophone
Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.


Youth
Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.


Zygote
Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

After the storm devastation in the Philippines, I thought back on Independencia, the only Filipino movie that I can remember having seen, an excitingly stylized though thematically depressing attack on colonialism, and thought maybe I should watch some more – a Filipino film fest! Only made it through one feature and a bunch of shorts so far.

Long Live Philippine Cinema! (2009, Raya Martin)

How do you not open your Filipino film fest with a movie entitled Long Live Philippine Cinema!? I think Martin is perhaps being ironic, though. Woman working in a cinema back room is killed by some guys, who then burn the evidence. A film can is filled with dirt, and the title spirals onto it. Apparently the woman represents Mother Lily, a producer who is thought to have control over the Manila Film Festival.

Track Projections (2007, Raya Martin)

Silent, camera on its side shoots a partly sunny sky while futzing with the aperture. Gets kinda good around the 3-minute mark. Nice how the sideways camera combined with motion results in a filmstrip look.

Insiang (1976, Lino Brocka)

The Philippines’ all-time most beloved movie is a grimly realistic drama about a young woman whose mom takes in a younger man who starts raping the daughter. So much for escapism. Everyone is poor and hungry and has a bunch of kids they can’t afford, and young Insiang spends the movie bouncing from one pole of desperation to another.

Her mom Tonya is shitty to everyone. Possibly it’s a survival mechanism – can’t tell if the movie is judging her or not. Insiang has a fully pathetic puff-haired boyfriend called Bebot who finally gets her to sleep with him on the pretense of taking her away from rapist uncle Dado, a sleazy mustache-man with his own name tattooed in a heart on his chest.

“Maybe [your father] left because he couldn’t stand your mother” – these are meant as encouraging words in this movie – and “As soon as I get a better job we’re going to leave this place” is its mantra.

Finally Insiang gets her revenge on everyone at once. She cuddles up to Dado and asks a favor: for him to beat the living hell out of Bebot, which he does, knocking all his teeth out down by the river. Then Insiang (exaggerating) tells her mom that Dado just used the mom to get to the daughter, hates the mom and plans to leave her. Result: mom kills Dado and goes to jail. You’d think this is the movie’s idea of a happy ending, but just in case we saw a glimmer of hope in Insiang’s revenge and independence, she visits mom and says she feels no better.

At least there’s a character named Nan Ding. Nice Slint reference.

Our Daily Bread (2006, Khavn)

A woman digs through the trash, sells junk to buy baby food, returns to the trash and feeds the rest of her family with chicken scraps she finds. Gross.

Can and Slippers (2005, Khavn)

Two things at once here: first, it’s a fast-cut, handheld high-action percussively-scored short of a kid kicking a coke can through town and out to the makeshift goal, where he shoots/scores. One the other hand, the kid is revealed to have one leg, he doesn’t have a real ball, the town is infested with garbage and the goal is on a trash heap.

Rugby Boyz (2006, Khavn)

Group of boyz play ball (with a real ball this time), tell jokes, dance to karaoke, huff something in plastic bags, then go swimming.

Sought this out because Martin is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50. Reminds of the fake 4:3 history of Tabu, but even more artificial, and with more leaves and fronds than Sternberg would’ve thought possible for his Anatahan. Percussive music when needed, never rising higher than the sound of wind.

There’s a family fighting hunger and frigid rain. Little birds (finches?) flutter around as if tossed into frame, landing in a kid’s hair at one point. Americans collect the kid but apparently not out of goodwill, since they start shooting when he runs off.

The subtitles don’t seem trustworthy, and my copy is too muddy and low-res. And I don’t really understand. But the photography is very nice, and different from anything else today. Turns to color for a Germany Year Zero ending. Must rewatch when blu-ray comes out.

N. Manaig:

Not unlike South American and other Third World writers employing magic realism in their works, Martin harnesses the inherently surreal/fantastical aspects of our folklore in order to mirror the under-emphasized and misrepresented aspects of our culture. Circulated in the deep of the night, circulated during meals, the stories exchanged in the depths of the forest are a kind of nourishment, a defense mechanism that both diverts and fortifies.

D. Kasman (who also mentioned Anatahan):

His minute little saga, which begins with a mother and son in the late 1890s fleeing the American invasion of the Philippines by hiding out in the forest, and ends with the son having a son all his own, still hiding from the encroaching Yanks, is shot in homage to old Hollywood films.

Acquarello:

Visually, Martin reflects this process of cultural imperialism in the images of supplanted native identity that bookend the film: from the opening shot of Filipinos in figuratively handed down Spanish clothing .. to the ominous tincture of color suffusing the horizon against a Mount Fuji-esque scenic landscape (reminiscent of scroll work) that augurs the arrival of the Japanese.

One of three TV-movies Fuller made in ’90, a year after his final theatrical film Street of No Return (and I still don’t know where to find the other two).

Earnest photographer Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, Chabrol’s Dr. M) is in the Philippines in the mid ’80’s (soon before the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos) looking for shots of strife and poverty to bring global attention to the local slums. She meets up with her ex, opportunistic photographer Luc Merenda (a vet of 1970’s Italian cop movies who cameoed in Hostel II).

Highlight of the movie is this local kid they meet. He learned hardboiled American gangster-speak from the movies and follows our couple around calling her “doll” and him “frenchy” while keeping them out of trouble. Trouble comes when Frenchy snaps a pic of a military man shooting an old woman in the head for not giving up a rebel camp location. From then on, it’s a chase for that roll of film, with more screen time for Frenchy than Beals, even though she’s the “star”.

Christa Lang plays Mama, who runs a sorta casino-brothel. N. Vera says: “It’s got a good Filipino cast–Behn Cervantes is an old friend of Lino Brocka and a theatrical legend… Pilar Pilapil is (or was) one of the most sensual actresses in Philippine cinema.” Pilar plays a girl forced to “work” at Mama’s until boyfriend Behn can afford to buy her out. They seem sympathetic to our heroes’ cause until the end, when Behn is discovered to be a pro-Marcos spy and is machine-gunned in the middle of a rally by the kid – an event captured by both photographers, getting ’em well-paid cover shots for a happy ending.

Fuller no longer had the budget or prestige for a studio shoot, but B. Krohn calls Madonna and some other late works “great films, despite the loss of control from location shooting.” Functional cinematography except for a fun shootout at a movie house, the action on the screen echoing the firefight in the theater.

Music sounds like the percussion of the backing track to that “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller with some hideous keyboards over it. Fuller wrote the title song (movie’s alt title is Tinikling, named after a game played by street kids in the movie, like jumprope with bamboo poles). Nice lyrics actually, but there’s no adequate performance of it in the film – first the kid belts it out in a moving car, then this guy Samuel Euston puts too much heart and soul and lameness into it.

Oh I forgot to mention this guy Pavel, who’s sorta all over the place trying to cut deals, played by Patrick Bauchau (star of Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse 20 years earlier, also in The Rapture).
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The doll:
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Frenchy:
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Mama:
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Sam Fuller, nearly 80, wouldn’t direct again after ’90, but would stick around as an actor for a few more years in films by Gitai, Wenders and Kaurismäki.
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Tyrone Power (very normal looking white guy who wouldn’t live another decade, also starred in Nightmare Alley) stars as the only American who can save the Philippines from the Japanese. Along with his loyal troops (buncha white guys) and a cute French girl whose father was killed by the dirty Japs (Micheline Presle, still alive, later in Sacha Guitry’s Napoleon, Rivette’s The Nun, Demy’s Donkey Skin and Fuller’s Thieves After Dark), Tyrone stays hidden long enough to set up communication lines, kill off some Jap soldiers and local traitors, and help out the good guys until General MacArthur arrives.

Fritz Lang directs, with no particular style or interest. Crazy-eyed actor Jack Elam was supposed to be in there, but I didn’t see him.

Movie had a story to tell and a side to take, and it set right to work telling that story and taking that side. Nothing more to tell. Glad I was able to tape it off cable and didn’t have to spend $20 hunting it down.

Count with me: thirty-three Fritz Lang movies down, four Fritz Lang movies to go.