Christoph Huber

If you want the entire experience of the 68th Venice Film Festival bottled up into one grand (almost) six-hour marathon, surely there’s no better way than Lav Diaz’s Orizzonti sidebar closer, which was—as always seems to be the case with Venice screenings of the Filipino director’s epics—screened on the penultimate night to glazed if welcoming eyes and already deformed bodies, only to emerge as the magisterial fusion of  key strands of the festival: religion and faith (cf. films by Karmakar, Olmi, Ferrara and others), theatricality (Sokurov, Cronenberg, Polanski . . .), the attempt to overcome alienation (Lanthimos, Sono, German jr. etc.) and, not least, the role cinema plays—or should play—in all this (Naderi). (Only closeups of genitalia are conspicuously absent, if strongly implied.) Alternating stretches convey the stories of of a Chistian cult (led by Diaz axiom Joel Torre, sporting amazing wigwork) and its disintegration after the arrival of a photographer and of a (in many ways quite autobiographically conceived) filmmaker, who questions his work and his outlook in general as he struggles with an unfinished film. (“It’s existentialism,” he says in one of the many discussions with his lead actress, “It has no ending.”) Complicating matters are long excerpts from this project, presented in consumer-grade video, as seen on the director’s laptop, in stark contrast to the hi-def black and white of the main strands, which manages to evoke long past celluloid glories in its radiance. As usual, Diaz alternates long scenes of high intensity with generous, observant takes, producing a rich tapestry in which the main themes forcefully emerge as their poetic rhymes on different levels get more pronounced, while taking time to explore his subjects and their society with unusual complexity. Also, the cult’s hymn surely is the catchiest anthem around on the festival circuit.