cinema as freedom

in his loaded rebuke of the blockbuster cinemalaya film zombadings 1: patayin sa shokot si remington, michael david tan suggests that, if this is the kind of movies raymond lee, jade castro and michiko yamamoto will be making after the ground-breaking ang pagdadalaga ni maximo oliveros, then they should stop making films altogether. tan's criticism stems from the fact that zombading's comedy is premised on gay stereotypes that society -- even one supposedly as accepting of homosexuals as the philippines -- finds funny. ultimately, tan believes that what the movie has achieved is to invent a new way of ridiculing gay men -- for which the filmmakers should be ashamed.

i do not know whether i agree completely with mr. tan. the movie has a certain awareness of these stereotypes. in fact, at one point remington says that it's not politically correct to be told that he is "sayang" (a waste) for being gay. the movie talks about acceptance, about tolerance, and that bad things happen to bigots. the inventor of the gaydar talks about biology as determinant of homosexuality, but the movie also talks about homosexuality as a curse, as a disease that can be cured, as a bad dream that one must wake from. towards the end, when remington's dad offers to take his place, he says that it's alright, since after all, the young man is still on his way, the father already returning. it seems to suggest that being gay is fine for people who have been through things, but not for young men who still have so much to look forward to -- he would lose so much if he were gay. as it seems, the movie is split: while it talks about rights and tolerance, it sweeps all these under the rug when it concludes, through some of the characters, that gays are OK: they bring joy and beauty to the world. they make things pretty. but they also make us chuckle.

my main complaint with the movie is that it sometimes appears that no gay man had been part of its making. the visual design and the costumes aren't all that great. i would have expected something short of a mardi gras. they should have amped the camp, if you ask me. but the winner here is the (re)discovery of martin escudero, who is perfect for the role of remington. not too buff nor too traditionally good-looking, martin has moved out of his starstruck mold, and the shadow of his batchmate aljur abrenica. his comedic timing is impeccable, and his characterization of remington believable: he was awkward, uncoordinated, unsure: everything one might expect from anyone transitioning from butch to belle. this review is of course over a month behind cinemalaya but i'm sure everyone else laughed at that staircase scene: martin essayed remington's wanting to experience a homosexual encounter but the hesitation of knowing he shouldn't do it. it took guts to do that for someone who once had a budding career as a young matinee idol -- i'm not saying he no longer is, nor that zombadings killed it, but then again, wouldn't you rather be seen as a serious actor than typecast as just a leading man? of course, martin's success in acting out remington is anchored on his grasp of these stereotypes. it isn't his fault though: this was what the role demanded of him.

the challenge for the filmmakers would have been to do a rip-roaring movie that handles sensitively the homosexual theme. i overheard someone say that indie film is the new gay soft porn; no one really complains about them but someone really should. not that we have too many, but that we have too many too bad, and poorly acted as well.

the only other cinemalaya film i've seen so far this year is ang babae sa septic tank: a spoof of the entire indie film industry, which brings us truckloads of movies that are either too long, or just too wrapped in their own independence no one gets it. and i think there were too many inside jokes in ang babae that a lot of the jokes were lost on me. i'm not an indie film insider. i'd also like to see cuchera, which was written and directed by my debate teaammate joseph laban. i really would have seen more of cinemalaya, if the CCP had been more accessible, and if the timing was better. as it is, it takes such an effort to see good movies these days.