Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros by Auraeus Solito (2005)




Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros


Growing up in a slum area in one of the more under-privileged communes in Metro Manila with a family of criminals sounds like a typical story. Spice it up with a love angle between a gay preteen, Maxi, and a handsome rookie policeman, Victor. Maxi’s brother commits murder; Maxi tries to cover up for his brother, whom Victor already suspects of the crime, leaving Maxi torn between filial piety and the throbs of first love in his young heart. This powerful ethical dilemma posed at the start of the film, unfortunately, did not blossom into moral fruition.

Directed by Auraeus Solito (his first full-length feature), written by Michiko Yamamoto (who also wrote Magnifico), and produced by Raymond Lee, it features Nathan Lopez in the title role. Since its premiere in the 1st Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2005 in Manila where it won the Special Jury Prize, Best Production Design and Special Citation for Performance (for Nathan Lopez), Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros has won Best Picture in the First Films World Competition of the Montreal World Film Festival 2005, participated in imagiNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and competed in the World Cinema Feature Competition of the Sundance Film Festival (a first for any Filipino filmmaker).

The film starts out promising. Though, technically, sound still is a problem for Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, just like the other digital films in Cinemalaya. The production design is subdued and subtle - a poster of Romeo and Juliet made by Brenda Fajardo prefigures the doomed love affair of Maxi and Victor. Nap Jamir’s cinematography is competent considering the lighting conditions. Sampaloc, Solito’s old neighborhood, offers a good background to Maxi’s crime-filled world.

Albeit some boring scenes, the film has some touching moments balanced with sporadic witty lines. The scene of young boys from the neighborhood parading around in gowns fully made up evoke memories of beauty contests enacted in countless living rooms, though I personally think the scene is not essential. Nathan Lopez’s portrayal of Maxi is believable but his sashaying tends to be distracting. Maxi also has a tendency to just sit in a corner and cry while his whole world is turned inside out.
The competent acting from dependable Soliman Cruz as Maxi’s father with Ping Medina and Neil Ryan Sese as Maxi’s two older brothers is the saving grace of the film.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros hardly offers new insights on gender issues in the Philippines, though there are attempts. For instance, Maxi’s very macho father and brothers do not beat him up; but rather treat Maxi lovingly. Maxi’s brothers even beat up a couple of neighborhood thugs who harassed him. Maxi’s family seems to counter the stereotype of gay-bashing fathers and brothers. Maxi is protected from the usual perils of growing up as a young gay because he is surrounded by a family of criminals. As a YCC member aptly puts it, “[Maximo] lives in a state of total freedom because he lives in a context of total crime.”

In return, Maxi serves them dutifully by cooking, cleaning, sewing, washing clothes, and tending the house – practically fashioning himself as the “woman” of the house, equating the roles of women and gays in Philippine society. It reinforces the stereotypical and patriarchal notion that the role of women, and now even gays, in society is to serve the men in their lives.

It is also a wonder why people continuously declare that the film is not a “gay film” when the title itself belies the fact. Maxi falls in love with a man, a gay beauty contest is enacted, the ethical dilemma of the movie is inherently gay - the film is undeniably a gay film. Why relegate that fact to the margins? This denial further pushes the discourse about homosexuality in Philippine society to the periphery.

Unpunished crimes (the murder committed by his brother and the murder of his father) served as impetus to the blossoming of Maxi. Both murders spiral the film into its denouement – the loss of innocence of his paramour, Victor, and hopefully, Maxi’s own blossoming into a life filled with possibilities amidst a world full of crime.

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