Not another gay movie. Not another “art” film showcasing another filthy Manila squatter’s area. These were my thoughts upon reading promotional e-mails about “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), pondering the virtues of showing Manila squalor and “bakla” cliches for a film to be considered “artistic”. And Maximo Oliveros had both!
So in spite of the good reviews of the film, I went to the moviehouse with a little trepidation to watch how Maxi came of age. The critics’ positive response to the film proved to be no empty words. My doubts disappeared within ten minutes of watching Maxi strut her stuff on the silverscreen. Ang Pagdadalaga, indeed, is a film worthy of the accolades it received.
The story is about a pre-pubescent gay boy who falls in love with an honest policeman out to solve a homicide case in Sampaloc, Manila. Unfortunately, the homicide suspect is Maxi’s older brother who also belongs to the gang of mobile phone snatchers headed by none other than Maximo’s father. Torn between protecting his family and winning the affection of his newfound friend, Maxi for the first time encounters heartache and witnesses the long arms of the law reach for his family.
What is refreshing about Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is its honesty. It does not overemphasize the travails of a gay boy but shows how one falls in love amid difficult circumstances. It neither glorifies nor justifies crime but tells why people hold job descriptions that lady justice frowns upon. Ultimately, it explains that while one may be able to escape a stint behind bars, there are other ways by which law enforcers heed their calling and this is especially true in the Philippines.
It does not dwell on the repulsive aspects of the slums where Maxi grows up and learns respect, friendship and love. Life, whether one is gay or straight, is already tough. Maximo Oliveros lives in a community where his gender is not tolerated if not for its members’ fear of his family. This is best shown in a scene where two bystanders harrass Maxi. The following day, his two brothers settle the score with the dark alley hoodlums. His family’s acceptance of his gender, their love for him and the support of his friends sustained Maximo through the most heart-breaking period of his young life.
Straight or gay, a viewer could only feel the joys and pains of first love through Maxi, played so endearingly well by Nathan Lopez. Soliman Cruz, Neil Ryan Sese and and Ping Medina turned into admirable father and brothers in spite of their unconventional professions. JR Valentin played the handsome and principled cop Victor with subliminal passion.
Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros recently won the Grand Prize at the Asian Festival of 1st Films in Singapore. It also bagged the Golden Zenith Award at the Montreal World Film Festival and Best Picture Award at the ImagineNATIVE Media Arts Festival in Canada. It will show at the Sundance Film Festival next year, being the first Filipino feature to be included in the World Dramatic Competition.