Words by Gabriele Niola
Translation by Bianca Baroni
Photography: Giacomo Cosua
In collaboration with Badtaste.it
A movie like this, with its plot that resembles a thriller but with a set-up like a semi documentary (even though it doesn’t belong to any of these genres), needs to be done regardless of this, for those spectators that even if they don’t exist today, they will tomorrow. Because there’s an undeniable charm in the long frames in which Lav Diaz makes the essential happen, with the maximum of the artifice in a world that is the maximum of the reality. Even though this reality is transfigured in frames that look like coated photos or portrays, the sense of real of The Women Who Left is tangible, maybe as tangible as is is also purely fiction-like, in its set-up and cinematographic aspect.
A woman got out of jail after years of imprisonment because they realized she was innocent and she goes back to her town, where everything happened, and she lives a double life, during the day and the night. The idea is to investigate on the local boss, the one who framed her, and to kill him. In this double life she meets different human types in a kind of borderline shanty town, like a hunched man who sells eggs in the night, a transvestite who prostitutes himself and a family oppressed by a fat woman.
Lav Diaz speaks a language that goes beyond the national border (his cinema is not a “Filipino” one) and he plays in the field of the greatest, in the arena in which Tsai Ming Liang fought for years, the same arena of the movies born from very long frames thought with great knowledge creating a cinema which trusts in composition and bets on faces. In The Women Who Left, the scenes are long-shot by a static camera, but every time the chosen point is clamorous and striking.
What impresses is not only the work on depth of field (awesome) or on composition (actors don’t move freely but are positioned to balance the whole scene), but also that mysterious way in which the spectators are involved and gripped in the moments when the plot doesn’t move. Every scene by Lav Diaz is a little movie with its own captivating language capability. If in the hard cinema founded by Scorsese, things like armed revenge from a person who’s not a criminal are like terrifying hells, in Diaz’s cinema paradoxically it doesn’t represent the peak of anything. It’s not a gun, a scuffle, a verbal fight or the meeting of an enemy what upsets. If anything, the long nights do it!
With its amazing black (a total and dark color), every night of The Woman Who Left tastes like summer nights, has a specific smell and creates the sensation of summer moisture and does it with its times. Even though it lasts only 4 hours (it’s even short for Laz Diaz), this work makes his own duration become its own strength, grips in a world in which the wait is greater than the result, in which you can breathe a different air only after a while. It’s crazy to think that time hasn’t a role in the way in which we look at an image: to keep it for a shot time has a sense, and for a long time has its meaning too, but the way in which it arrives, changes. A lot.
And it’s incredible how a set-up which is so fictional, calculated and almost mathematical in its stylistic perfection, can reach an impression of realism and presence of the audience in the scene. The experience is so involving that any duration is not a problem anymore.