The Woman Who Left

The Woman Who Left poster

The Woman Who Left movie poster

Following a middle-aged woman trying to find her place in the world after having wrongfully spent 30 years in a jail, The Woman Who Left isn’t a movie for everybody: Clocking at 3 hours and 46 minutes, this black and work with subtitles is composed of lengthy sequences designed to capture life realistically.

Loosely based on a Tolstoy premise and directed by Lav Diaz, an award-winning filmmaker known for socio-political films running up to 11 hours, The Woman Who Left brushes a dark portray of a country – 90’s Philippines – plagued by corruption and kidnappings.

After getting out of jail, Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio) goes on the mission to find her missing son as well as the man responsible for her incarceration, her ex-boyfriend now criminal boss Rodrigo (Michael De Mesa). Witnessing social injustice and meeting various misfits who, just like her, have been abandoned by society, the kind ex-teacher slowly starts to develop bitter and vengeful feelings that will take an unexpected turn.

Filmed in austere black and white, The Woman Who Left is a naturalistic movie showing life like it is, which means time isn’t a restriction in Mr. Diaz’s universe: you can see two people drunkenly dancing for 20 minutes without anything major happening because it’s a real-life representation.  I must admit that even if you enjoy slow arthouse films, this one was quite challenging and I had to split it in 2 screening sessions.

By letting his camera roll endlessly, Mr. Diaz tries to make us experience the characters’ despair and pain and at times he succeeds while in other cases he just loses our attention – mostly around halfway when introducing new characters.  I particularly enjoyed 2 sequences, one where Rodrigo is confessing he’s not a good man at church and the other one where Horacia and her transvestite friend are talking and partying. Both moments feel so real and are so emotionally rough that you almost feel like you’re the third person in the room. And if everything looks so genuine, it’s for the most part thanks to Ms. Santos-Concio’s subtle performance, alternating between kindness and toughness with unequal ease, which isn’t even more surprising as it marks her return to acting after almost 2 decades as a CEO and producer.

When the end comes, it’s a relief both for Horacia and the audience most likely exhausted by such a demanding experience. While The Woman Who Left might not be as flawless and rich as similarly long works from the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Rublev)  or Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samourai, Ran), it is an adventure worth taking if you’re a true cinephile.

Director: Lav Diaz – Actors: Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz – Running Time: 3:46 – Year: 2016 – Country: Philippines
Click here to watch the The Woman Who Left trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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