The Woman Who Left

The latest opus from Lav Diaz – winner of the Golden Lion at Venice – is another moving and melancholic study from the Filipino director

Film Review by Michelle Devereaux | 01 Mar 2017
  • The Woman Who Left
Film title: The Woman Who Left
Director: Lav Diaz
Starring: Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael de Mesa

Filipino auteur Lav Diaz’s latest magnum opus might be the ideal entry point to so-called “slow” cinema, especially for those who bristle at the notion of long, sometimes aggressively strange films where “nothing” really happens. Clocking in at a relatively economical three hours and forty-five minutes (Diaz’s 2008 film Melancholia is seven and a half hours), The Woman Who Left grafts the wronged-woman revenge plot of a B-movie potboiler on to a hypnotizing slow-burn meditation on faith, freedom, friendship, and futility. It’s magnificent for both its outsized qualities and its minimalist restraint.

In 1997, during a spate of nationwide kidnappings, Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio) is freed after spending 30 years in prison for a murder she did not commit. She discovers her jilted ex-lover, the wealthy gangster Rodrigo Trinidad, framed her for the crime, and she sets out to the seaside province of La Union to exact her revenge on him.

A nurturing Earth mother with a hair-trigger temper, Horacia soon gets side-tracked by a string of downtrodden misfits, including a homeless woman obsessed with demons, a hunchback who plies the street-food staple balot (duck embryos boiled in the shell) late into the night, and Hollanda (the magnetic John Lloyd Cruz) a troubled trans woman prone to seizures and drunken a cappella renditions of Sunrise, Sunset.

Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, The Woman Who Left features stunning high-contrast black-and-white cinematography, no score, plentiful long takes, and completely static framing of its painterly compositions, which often have characters with their backs to the camera. Diaz’s style is masterful and melancholy, but it is also in service of some very moving substance. Horacia’s journey leads from the confines of her bizarrely idyllic prison life to an increasing sense of doom and disarray once she gains her “freedom.” But the fear and loathing of the outside world is counterbalanced by the beautiful and bizarre characters inhabiting it. Their vulnerability and simple human frailty is all the music that The Woman Who Left needs in order to sing.

The Woman Who Left screened at Glasgow Film Festival

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