Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), the titular Woman Who Left, is released from prison after 30 years when it turns out her friend was the one who actually committed the crime. With much of her life already gone, Horacia tasks herself with finding her son and taking revenge on Rodrigo (Michael de Mesa), the wealthy architect of her misery.
Using the simple premise of a revenge story, director Lav Diaz takes his time. He shows Horacia’s methodical planning as she takes to the streets at night and befriends marginalised members of Filipino society to use them as informants. They comprise a hunchbacked survivor of sexual abuse, a delusional homeless woman, and an epileptic trans woman, all of whom portrayed with the utmost dignity. A more mainstream film might try to present such characters as quirky oddballs in a bid to make them funny and relatable; Diaz is too sensitive of a filmmaker to fall back on that.
Diaz also develops his own unique way of telling Horacia’s story through visuals. Scenes largely play out in static long takes, which de-emphasise the characters and instead draw attention to the environment. The black-and-white cinematography is striking thanks to Diaz’s skilled use of angles and depth.
Praise should not just be reserved for Diaz though, as Santos-Concio gives a subtle performance as Horacia. Initially a pure, nurturing soul, her quest for justice reveals a crueler side to her personality. The change in her character is so gradual and nuanced that the inevitable eruption of violence still surprises.
The Woman Who Left just won the Golden Lion at Venice, and with good reason. The slow-burning revenge story paints a nuanced picture of inequality in late ’90s Filipino society. This is anchored by a mercurial central performance and all wrapped up in the best cinematography of the year.
CAST: Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael De Mesa
DIRECTOR: Lav Diaz
WRITER: Lav Diaz
SYNOPSIS: After being wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years, Horacia goes after the man who helped put her there.