There is something forbidding about this four-hour reworking of Crime and Punishment set in the Philippines. The director, Lav Diaz, has a very distinctive style. He doesn't much like cutting. Individual shots here are held for minutes at a time. The framing is often oblique. The most dramatic scenes tend to happen off-camera, or are shown through half-open doors.
In the latter stages, there are some strange, Tarkovsky-like flourishes: for example, a character levitates. Even so, this is far more absorbing than might have been expected. Diaz is dealing with primal emotions in a contemplative, visually striking way.
The film features scenes of murder, rape and brutality. One character, the highly intelligent but arrogant student Fabian (Sid Lucero), loses his moral bearings and eventually his sanity. The other, the working-class Joaquin (Archie Alemania), shows extraordinary gentleness and restraint in the face of mounting suffering.
Norte is shorter than many of Diaz's other films: his 2006 feature, Heremias, lasted a mind-boggling 540 minutes. It has a cumulative power that makes it well worth persevering with.