Diaz’s debut, Serafin Geronimo: Criminal of Barrio Concepcion (1998), even without the burden of its successors, is a poorly made piece of cinema. It’s got all the trappings of a bad student film – laboured acting, ill-advised cuts, unwarranted zooms and an occasionally bombastic score – that only worsen its low production values. Very loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Serafin Geronimo chronicles the titular criminal’s act of sin and his subsequent confession and redemption. Diaz chooses to externalize the moral conflict of the protagonist through a dental infection whose pain seems to grow unbearable. Additionally, there’s a lot of gratuitous violence – graphic and described – in the film (even in the censored version) that underscores the savagery of the world Serafin (Raymond Bagatsing), like Hesus, is caught in. Evidently, like the Russian author, the film wants to observe human suffering in all its brutality. But what the film does not seem to understand is that human suffering can’t be captured on film by merely recording mutilated bodies or the physics of their destruction. Such documentation must attempt to record the death of the soul – the internal through the physical – as well (Compare this film with the sublime, genuinely Dostoevsky-ian passage depicting Kadyo’s demise in Evolution). However, the scenes at the countryside, set in the past, are executed with certain affection and restraint. Diaz pushes his political ambitions to the background as the quest for personal justice and redemption takes precedence here over national issues. The use of curious, hand held camera and the staging of action in deep space during indoor scenes are few of the traits that would be carried over and refined in Diaz’s later, superior works.