In celebration of Pride Month, the Film Development Council of the Philippines through Cinematheque Centre Davao held a month-long screening of selected LGBTQ+ films for the past six years. The event, titled ‘#GugmaForAll,’ showcased movies highlighting the struggles and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. We took this opportunity to be entertained and to be provoked by the artistic creativity of Filipino filmmakers. Here, we dissected three movies that you might consider watching while you’re waving the rainbow flag.
NOTE: These reviews contain spoilers.
A boiling pot spits fumes of air as it dissipates into the darkly lit kitchen. At the living room next to it, a young boy lies anxiously for something, unsure of what he is about to go through. Just then, the hoarse voice of a man instructs his patient to ready himself. The man, dressed scantily in women’s clothing, grabs a syringe and fills it with a suspicious-looking liquid from the pot. “Gusto mo bang magpaganda?” the elderly man asks.
“Quick Change” is a controversial 2013 Filipino drama film directed by Eduardo Roy Jr. Set in the urban jungle of less affluent Manila, it oozes not with a jovial atmosphere, but one that is shrouded in brooding darkness.
The film is often presented inelegantly, raw, and and ridden with a sense of inescapable dread. In it, Dorina Pineda (played by Mimi Juareza) is a transgender who makes a living out of injecting “collagen” on other gays and transgenders. Their greatest wish is to look beautiful in pageants or in the public spotlight, no matter how painful the procedure may take. It is only later on in the film that a surprising twist changes Dorina’s world as it sends her life into a downward spiral.
Dorina’s journey is one of tragedy as she starts off as a naïve transgender woman who brings along with her an innocent nephew, Hiro (Migs Cuaderno) every time she undergoes one of her illegal procedures. She is then portrayed to be having an affair with a male performer, Uno (Jun Jun Quintana), who treats her less of a person and more as a sex object. Playing neither a true hero nor a true villain, Dorina embodies a character who falls into the shade of grey.
As such, Juareza carries the weight of the entire film on her shoulders as she expertly plays a troubled protagonist who is on the path to doom. The audience could sympathize with the choices she makes, both noble and evil, and it is all the more apparent with the realistic expressions the actress portrays.
Throughout the film, the cinematography chooses to stay as dark and gloomy as possible, befitting of one that involves characters who are not in the service of good. The slums, buildings, and all the cityscapes are drained of expressive colors, signifying the lack of hope in the narrative.
Highly exploitative, “Quick Change” is a cautionary tale with explicit themes about the dangers of unethical, illegal medicinal practices that plague not only the LGBTQ community, but the greater Filipino society. Moreover, it is also a narrative which seeks to warn the LGBTQ that unnatural means of beautifying may only lead them to a road of death and despair.
Although the movie is straightforward, its conclusion is open ended with the cycle of deception continuing. Moviegoers are left to imagine the fates of the protagonists and the possibility of collagen procedures persisting due to huge demand from unwary clients.
Perhaps the film could have traveled a safer route instead of the dark and morbid path it chose to take. In its defense, however, the bleakness of the plot and the uncomfortable viewing experience that follows would force the common Filipino to stray away from quack doctors and fraudulent medical practitioners. Not for the faint of heart, “Quick Change” may be lacking in emotional depth or intellectual heft, but it still manages to drive the point home that the cost of unethical medical beautifying is a risk everyone should consider.
The early morning sunshine lands on a senile man’s face as he lies on a bed covered with a transparent, ghastly cloth. He is stricken with a terrible disease as he spends his last few dying breaths. Suddenly, he feels a warm sensation on his hand— the touch of a familiar, manly figure. A face of ember looks back at him as the frail man realizes it was the soul that made his life whole. They are more than brothers.
“Rainbow’s Sunset” is a sweet, good-natured 2018 Filipino drama film directed by Joel Lamangan about two old lovebirds binding together in a forbidden love, however, their loved ones are torn with such public displays of affection.
Led by a triad of masterfully talented actors, the plights of Ramon Estrella (played by the late Eddie Garcia), Alfredo Veneracion (Tony Mabesa), and Sylvia (Gloria Romero) are brought into an emotionally-involving narrative that leads them in a decades-long journey of loving acceptance and societal rejection.
The film follows a non-linear structure as it jumps back and forth from the 50’s-70’s to the present day. Several different conflicts entangle Ramon— he must be committed to either his secret love with Alfredo or the more open courtship with Sylvia during the vintage-era Philippines. On the other hand, Sylvia in the present day is trying to protect Ramon from the the bitter squabbles of their children over Ramon’s affection for Alfredo.
The Estrella children includes corrupt family-man, Emman (Tirso Cruz III); influential politician, Georgina (Aiko Melendez); and naïve social activist, Marife (Sunshine Dizon). The three of them lead different, yet interconnected subplots. As significant as their roles may be to the overall plot, one could also sense that the film drags frequently because it deals with too many characters.
With bright colors splashing the entire screen, the film exudes a warm-hearted vibe as if the audience is being pulled into a loving household, harkening back to the film’s ultimate goal of letting Filipinos know that being “gay” is not at all wrong. As for the cinematography, there’s nothing too fancy in it which makes sense in the context of the movie being grounded with ordinary people, but a little more novelty and flare could’ve done it wonders.
Perhaps one of the most powerful scenes halfway into the movie involves a young Sylvia discovering an intimate affair between Ramon and Alfredo kissing in private. It is at that point that the film takes a higher risk of showing a scene which would cause some people to flinch or look away, while others would simply smile. It further mirrors the divide Filipinos have when they perceive of the LGBTQ+ community; some embrace it, some don’t.
For many LGBTQ+ Filipinos who are going through their personal turmoils, this is a familiar story about tolerance and taking pride in one’s own identity. The forbidden love that both Ramon and Alfredo have for each other tug at the heartstrings as one could sympathize that they are unable to let their true selves out initially. Like that of a prism, the two eventually develop the courage to let their light out from within.
Countless Filipino families could learn so much about compassion in this film. Despite the overall narrative becoming too sentimental or melodramatic at times, (in fact, some might call it unrealistic for its overdramatization) it still carries hefty themes such as gender tolerance, appreciation, and even sincere love.
“Rainbow’s Sunset” may not be the finest piece of art form to ever come out in theaters, but with an emotionally resonant story and a trio of main characters to root for, it is a breath of fresh air for Filipino cinema. Simple, yet worthwhile, the entire film excels with painting a love that was never meant to be in such a way that even hardened hearts will learn to embrace the rainbow flag.
Billie and Emma
Billie & Emma is a girl-meets-girl high school romance comedy (not coming-of-age, not even a bit, despite what its Wikipedia article labels it as).
The opening scene introduces us to Billie (Zar Danton) standing near a rural waiting shed. Restless and apparently displaced, she lights a cigarette and immediately discards it after a few puffs. A Manileña, she just arrived in the green and airy town of San Isidro. She would continue the rest of her high school education at St. Gerard, an all-girls religious school in the said town after her father found out that she was a lesbian. In school, she meets Emma (charming performance from Gabby Padilla), a bright-eyed star student, who notices Billie for her defiant attitude, manly stance, and her odd choice to wear combat boots in school.
Writer and director Samantha Lee surely has a lot of things to say on topics such as homosexuality, its effect on relationships, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, and abortion. But most of her musings remained only in dialogue, not realized on screen. Consider this God’s Not Dead-like scenario where Billie’s religion teacher, also her aunt, Miss Castro (Cielo Aquino) highlights homosexuality as a sin, pulling a verse from the Bible. Of course, Billie spoke up, and of course, she outsmarted her. But this ‘gotcha’ moment came across as abrupt and forced, and so did the ‘egg funeral’ scene akin to 3 Idiots when Rancho confronted Virus. It did suggest Castro as the antagonist, but the scene, along with her reading of Billie’s cherished book Rubyfruit Jungle, did little to establish her change of heart and quick confession later on. Characters also speak in a mix of English and Filipino, and this contributed to the film’s preachy tone.
This is not to say the film does not have its moments. Emma’s unfettered and modish mother (Beauty Gonzales) is entertaining and she provides some of the best scenes. One scene, in particular, surprised me when Emma confessed her pregnancy to her mother and yet she was so casual about it, downplaying it for laughs. The scene where Emma publicly announced it in school, gathering support from her classmates to protest “Save the baby!” is hilarious. Subtle symbolisms were also present. There’s a scene where Emma and her mother are talking about abortion in a restrained voice while they’re putting hangers in their clothes. It was strong and unsettling. One of the two long takes I spotted was interesting: the same-sex lovers romancing on a bench with a blurry church in the background; the other, ineffective and unnecessary, just to set them up for a kiss. The 90s high school setting was almost effective but not fully harnessed, a watered-down ABNKKBSNPLAko?! vibe.
The film is pro-choice. Characters make bold decisions and don’t care about traditions, norms, and, arguably, morals. I respect it for that. It’s only the under-execution of its juggled themes which made it appear like a miracle movie trying too hard to appeal to an audience. But an audience? Yes, it has.
I got the privilege to see Billie & Emma last Tuesday at Cinematheque Center (my first time) for its special screening of queer films. One of the five males in the mini-theatre, I knew I also have to take note of the females’ opinions. Among the three I asked, one called it cheesy, the other realistic, and the other noted a chunky messed-up flow. Excluding the second, I also think the same. We also agreed it is effective for Filipino filmgoers.