GrimsChild’s review published on Letterboxd :
Part of me wants to give this half a star for it's conscious act to throw a spanner in the works to my theory on the Diaz Expanded Universe given it's disregard for the strands of realism that form the connective tissue of his second period in the form of a magical neorealist triptych although even by my standards that's not really being fair. This was only released today (thanks MUBI!) although chronologically this comes between Century Of Birthing and Florentina Hubaldo, CTE which are his most and least personal films respectively. In context of the film, this makes sense: if Lullaby represented the death and ressurection of the auteur than this film is Diaz's last rites (making Florentina to Day Before The End his purgatory (you thought that title was only a metaphor?)) and it shows in the film (also worth noting the movie's only 80 minutes marking his first feature length film in 12 years).
Initially the movie starts out very strong. There's aspects of Diaz's personal style I will never like such as his deliberate obfuscation of background imagery and his Meandering As Process groundwork that the first half hour or so sets up but here it's surprisingly effective. My personal theory for this is after the reflexive nature of Century Of Birthing he started to become more open with his influences. A 10 minute two shot of a sex worker looking for a pickup as in Melancholia (which I'm certain I would have found insufferable with his normal techniques) is given a fair level of depth here through his frame juxtapositions like Apichatpong Weertheaskul used in his early films to depict romantic longing. After a musical interlude his gears shift further from this relatively brisk opening to a series of flash cuts depicting a a busy market cribbed from the Pedro Costa playbook, Ossos in particular. This should be a part worth criticising for however this dissection gives a sense of life to the imagery that he rarely possesses. The jump cuts even excel their origins going from cuts in space to cuts in time, criss-crossing entire dimensions tell to story of the Philippines. In-fact the later imagery in this section even surpasses his later attempts at replication in From What Is Before where his command of water as an element is the closest to the Tarkovsky comparisons he's been showered with his entire career and at this point I thought I'd have to reassess everything (A visual clue to Tsai's Journey To The West was the cherry on top).
Unfortunately after the half way point things go sour. First of all while I wouldn't go as far as to call Diaz a misogynist (which I probably did in my Melancholia review and if I did, i apologise) his mythologising here is extremely misguided. The introversion displayed earlier is made crystal clear as the hooker with the heart of the gold is later relegated to a bit player in her own story. I was hoping Diaz learned his mistakes from Melancholia but nearly the same ideas are repeated here ad nauseum. The change in style between shots that originally could be taken as a fantastic metaphor for time progression is different states of the Filipino evolution is paved way for one baritone flat-line that substitutes creativity for structure. However more than anything is an unwelcome return to the brutal violence of his earliest work. His original sophomoric trilogy of action movies were naive fluff that he would later take to blossom his own style but the scenes in this movie he's mimicking from his early are just cruel. I'm not calling for all his films to be pacifist especially with the wonderful shootouts in Lullaby but here the misanthropy isn't deserved and his odes to Dostoevsky that have fermented his entire oeuvre are a very poor fit here and I wish he's cut this entire film in two and worked on them as separate films as he did in Butterflies Have No Memories. The film's last twenty minutes recycle the landscapes at the start but are given less weight. Their interesting in their own right but the ouroboric effect aimed for isn't completed or necessary.
What's not aggressive for me is that this movie is nearly impossible for me to judge on my own terms. Objectivity is bullshit obviously but I can't see myself reacting to this in anyway without an encyclopedic knowledge of his work. Does it work as a film? Tempted to say it does but as a missing piece of his work it's not going to provide any insight into his mind that's not present in his other films. Maybe if Diaz was divorced of his own devices and worked exclusively piggy backing his cohorts ideas on the Filipino zeitgeist he might have had a masterpiece however his own instincts got the better of him. It's probably for the best given his improvement on it in Lullaby but even at 80 minutes I can only recommend this to devotees only.