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Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (Auraeus Solito, 2005)

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  • noelbotevera
    Better than Brokeback Noel Vera Auraeus Solito s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005), the first Filipino film to
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2006
      Better than "Brokeback"

      Noel Vera

      Auraeus Solito's "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros" (The
      Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005), the first Filipino film to
      compete in Sundance, has since been screened in prestigious
      festivals such as Rotterdam and Berlin; has won awards in Berlin, in
      the Cinemalaya Film Festival, in the Las Palmas Film Festival, in
      the Gawad Urian (the Philippines' most prestigious film awards); and
      has recently been chosen as the Filipino entry for Best Foreign Film
      at next year's Oscars.

      It's not a bad choice; intelligently made, nicely acted (thanks to
      Solito's direction and an excellent cast of actors), and with a
      distinct look despite the minuscule budget (thanks to Nap Jamir's
      digital color photography and his low-key rendition of Sampaloc,
      Manila's trash-choked slums), I'd be proud to have the film
      represent our country at the annual horse race (for the record I
      don't consider the shindig compelling evidence of cinematic merit,
      but I do admit it helps sell tickets to have the words "Oscar
      Winning Film!" plastered across a picture's publicity poster--
      y'know, for people who don't know any better).

      The film will have a second commercial screening in Manila this
      week, where hopefully it will take advantage of the same audience
      that made last year's "Brokeback Mountain" such a big hit. It
      deserves the chance every bit as much as the better-known gay film;
      I'd even consider it superior to Ang Lee's Oscar-nominated
      production, in that it's not choked down by a paralyzing sense of
      good taste (the way almost all of Lee's films are), nor does it
      serve up tired old clichés about doomed gay love for our morbid
      pleasure.

      The eponymous boy is the member of a family of thieves (they
      specialize in petty larceny) who operate in a specific territory of
      Manila. The child is not your usual tragic queerboi, oppressed by
      his macho brothers and father (the mother had died long ago);
      instead, father and brothers accept their brother's homosexuality
      (and more, accept it without question or fuss), and Maximo
      (or "Maxie" as he's fondly called) in turn acts as the mother figure
      who cooks, grooms, and cares for his father and straight siblings.

      The whole thing is presented so matter-of-factly that it's easy to
      take for granted, how different this all feels from your run-of-the-
      mill gay drama. Despite the official stance of the Catholic Church
      that homosexuality is a sin, homosexuals do enjoy far more
      acceptance as fellow equals and family members in Philippine society
      than they ever would in, say, the ostensibly more liberal United
      States. There are instances of gay bashing and ugly incidents like
      the brouhaha provoked by Mr. Isagani Cruz's recent column
      on "vulgar" homosexuals (this isn't a perfect world--far from it),
      but overall, "Maximo Oliveros'" portrayal of casual acceptance isn't
      too far off the mark (it would be more off the mark, I think, if
      they actually did try make something out of it).

      Enter Victor (JR Valentin, a former ramp model), the rare straight
      (in more ways than one) young cop determined to clean up the
      Sampaloc streets, and suddenly love enters Maxie's life; conflict
      too, as Victor's sights are trained on Maxie's family of felons--
      Maxie must, as a result, choose between his family and his first
      love.

      Maxie is too young to actually have sexual relations with Victor,
      which doesn't stop him from pining for the man (yes youths can and
      often have sexual feelings--something Hollywood movies are often too
      timid to acknowledge); to Victor's credit, he treats Maxie's
      adoration with tact and respect. Victor and Maxie's relationship
      seems surprisingly mature, with little of the condescension an adult
      might show a fledgling adolescent. Victor trusts in Maxie and his
      moral intelligence enough to ask him for his help, to "do the right
      thing," however much this might harm Maxie's family (yes, you get
      the sense that Victor may partly be taking advantage of Maxie's love
      for him--but you also get a sense that they both know this, and that
      this is not what he's counting on). Maxie in turn gives Victor's
      confidence the recognition it deserves, by treating it as a pivotal
      decision in his life (which, in fact, it is). It's this sense you
      get of a child capable of an adult's recognition of what's at stake
      and what the consequences might be that makes Maxie so charming and,
      in the end, so heroically moving; for a supposed princess-in-the-
      making, Maxie seems more grown-up than most actual heterosexual
      adults (something--again--the film doesn't make such a big deal out
      of).

      Ms. Yamamoto's has to date been able to get only two scripts
      produced, this and the 2003 "Magnifico," directed by veteran
      commercial filmmaker Maryo J. Delos Reyes. Yet with this slim
      portfolio she's established a distinct authorial voice, that of a
      largely benign yet complex world, where people may not actively work
      for evil or mayhem--they seem too smart to do that--but this doesn't
      necessarily mean all is light and joy; if anything, when tragedy
      strikes the pain is all the sharper, because no one (almost no one,
      anyway) really meant it to happenÂ…

      Mr. Solito burst upon the independent filmmaking scene with "Ang
      Maikling Buhay ng Apoy, Act 2, Scene 2: Suring at ang Kuk-ok" (The
      Brief Life of Fire, Act 2, Scene 2: Suring and the Kuk-ok, 1997) an
      extravagantly beautiful stop-motion animation short about a girl and
      her mythological friend, full of bright colors and fascinating
      textures. Most interesting of all was the sense you got that it was
      but a fragment of a greater whole, a fantastical world based on
      Palawan mythology (Solito hails from Palawan, and the short is in
      fact based on a scene in his full-length play). Mr. Solito has done
      interesting work since, though none of it has really touched on the
      brilliance of that initial work. His collaboration with Ms. Yamamoto
      is a fruitful one, though; one hopes for more from this promising
      newcomer.

      (First published in Businessworld. 9/22/06)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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