Filipino drama The Woman Who Left is no easy watching, requiring redoubled concentration and considerable amounts of patience from the viewers to be fully absorbed. Reinforcing his statute of cult director, Lav Diaz (Norte, The End of History; From What is Before) was awarded with the Venice Golden Lion with this peculiar, classic-style revenge tale, vanquishing other powerful candidates such as La La Land, Jackie, Nocturnal Animals, or Arrival.
Diaz drew inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” and not only adapted it to the Filipino reality but extended it up to three hours and forty-six minutes. Nothing to be surprised, since he always showed a tendency for protracted movies – Norte runs a bit more than four hours, while From What is Before goes over five and a half hours!
“… occasionally exasperating but ultimately rewarding experience.”
If this pondered-style indie world cinema is right up your alley, you won’t give your time as wasted as you contemplate this somber story.
Charo Santos-Concio is Horacia Somorostro, a good-hearted teacher who spent 30 years in a Filipino correctional for a crime she didn’t commit. In 1997, her longtime friend Petra finally confessed she was the culprit of a murder machinated by Horacia’s ex-boyfriend, the wealthy Rodrigo Trinidad (Michael de Mesa).
Before going after Rodrigo with a clear intention to kill, Horacia stops by her family’s house, but only finds the daughter of the old caretaker who informs her about the death of her husband, the sudden disappearance of her son, and the whereabouts of her daughter, Minerva (Marjorie Lorico), who never went to visit her in prison.
Acting undercover, Horacia moves to the city where Rodrigo lives, planning carefully all the steps of a very anticipated bloody retaliation. However, the new stranger in town reveals true compassion for the poor and the disadvantaged, befriending Magbabalot (Nonie Buencamino), a miserable yet God-devotee egg street seller, Mameng (Jean Judith Javier), an unbalanced young woman who knows exactly who the ‘devils’ are, and Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), an epileptic transvestite who roams the streets with self-contempt, waiting patiently for his life to end. In the most despairing situations, all these characters will take something from her but will also reciprocate.
“… the lingering camera [captures] everything in a Kurosawa-esque black-and-white praxis”
The painful loneliness is increased by a sparse narrative, while the lingering camera, capturing everything in a Kurosawa-esque black-and-white praxis, turns this film into an occasionally exasperating but ultimately rewarding experience. The surprises of the story don’t come from where you expect, and that is an extra point for Diaz’ written material.
Simultaneously bleak and illuminated, “The Woman Who Left” is not just about revenge, moral integrity, and opportunity. It’s about life… a life you didn’t choose to live but you are compelled to. Furthermore, it makes a keen observation on the recent situation of the Philippines, a country dominated by injustice and social inequality. The good thing is that Diaz, not satisfied with merely denouncing it, combats it with love, clemency, and friendship.
The Woman Who Left (2017) – Written and Directed by Lav Diaz. Starring: Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael De Mesa, Nonie Buencamino, Jean Judith Javier.
7 out of 10