The Queer Miscarriage in Joselito Altarejos’s Lalake sa Parola (2007) March 14, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi, Queer, UP Screening.
English Title: The Man in the Lighthouse
Directed by Joselito Altarejos
Written by Lex Bonife
Cast: Harry Laurel, Jennifer Lee, Justin de Leon
There is nothing new with the increasing number of local independent films released in the last few months. It just proves how well we can manage without the studio-based excrements that we used to stomach for God knows how long. The great news is, after numerous attempts of reaching out to a wider spectrum of viewers, our audience is responding quite well, joining the bandwagon of hopeless dreamers who still continue to believe that Philippine cinema will gain its glory after several decades of loss. Not that our audience is completely aware of what they are doing, but I refuse to consider that they are just watching these films out of sheer curiosity. Cinematic art is here for more than a century, so what difference does it make if it is digital or not? But filmmaking, after all, is still business — a lucrative business seen through the eyes of the Tans and the Sys and the Cojuangcos. But let’s make the Gokongweis an exception. Perhaps less evil, but still an exception. Otherwise they would have stopped doing their deeds after just a couple of months of public screening at Indie Sine. Beyond the silence of its cold seats, a sound of thunder canonises the perceptible emptiness. But it seems that Mr. Gokongwei is now getting the glorious fruits of his risks: the last four or five films screened at Robinson’s Indie Sine are box-office success, with some even getting extended screenings and additional theatre showings. The number of people who watched Joselito Altarejos’ Lalake sa Parola (The Man in the Lighthouse) and Lihim ni Antonio (Antonio’s Secret), Paolo Villaluna and Ellen Ramos’ Selda (Cell), and Adolf Alix’s Daybreak is overwhelming — with Altarejos’ third feature considered the highest-grossing independent film to date. It is not surprising, to say the least, that all these films, including last year’s Rome and Juliet, have one thing in common: their stories are about homosexuality. Queer cinema has been around for quite some time but as a critical discourse, apparently, it is quite young. And if it is all it takes to ignite the discriminating interest of people to watch our local films, so be it.
Ang Lalake sa Parola, however, is daringly disappointing. It morphs from film to TV, then after a few jagged illuminations of its setting, it turns into radio. The film talks a lot, yet it isn’t saying anything new everytime its characters speak. It feels like the dialogues are mere reflections of themselves, spoken over and over again, an incessant repetition that impairs logic or even the lack of it. Not only that it is overly talkative — it is noisy; and that’s when it transforms into radio. The visuals are already loud and clear yet they are still emphasised through the dialogue; lines are heavily dramatised as if they are not too obvious; the noisiness overpowers its dwarfed narrative — and if you are an ordinary viewer whose ears can easily get numb with just a hint of pandemonium, when you can’t even feel that you have an eardrum, then the attention span never lasts very long, except for the scenes that everyone is expecting. It pains me to think that maybe Altarejos and Bonife are working on the idea that Filipinos talk a lot — well that’s a nice observation — but their idea of talking a lot might seem too narrow. We love to share insights about things; we might even sound dogmatic at times but at least they could have illustrated the depth of our wordiness, the dimensions of our verbose lives. In Lalake sa Parola, the characters are just mouthing words; they lack the sincerity to mean them.
Of course it is not entirely the story’s fault. The film is a casting disaster. Harry Laurel, despite his physique and poise, looks like an ailing patient who forgot to take his medicine for a month. A newcomer in the industry, his decision to take risks is commendable, but he lacks everything else. Bravery is one thing; talent is another. Likewise, why bother to get great supporting actors if the characters they are supporting crumble easily? I understand the difficulty in finding gifted actors considering the extent of nudity and boldness it requires but therein lies the challenge: the challenge of not giving up until the best ingredients are bought for the most important occasion of one’s life. Attaining his vision is every filmmaker’s dream, and despite numerous personal opinions that express otherwise, Ang Lalake sa Parola has not achieved it.
Sadly, whatever noble intentions that Altarejos and Bonife have in making this film never showed in their characters. Perhaps Altarejos has immersed so much in mainstream television that he underestimates the importance of silence in film. Silence can bring his vision into a higher stature, if only he knows how to use it. In addition, the diwata substory is rather interesting but it only pushes the film into the realm of the stereos. Is it purposely paralleled to the narrative to justify the turn of events? That somehow, in every distant region in the world where homosexuality is still a taboo, history always repeats itself? If it finds a strong hold on present society and not on archaic notions of folk illegitimacy that justifies the presence of hegemony, then I guess it will work.
If anyone here wants to answer these questions, I will be very grateful to listen. When Mateo has finally succumbed to Jerome’s feelings, why does the film always have to reinforce the sexual relationship between them? Is it the basis of the relationship? Don’t they have other ways of communicating, aside of course from the usual talk and sexual intercourse? Like in any relationship, if one fails to submit to another, or if one doesn’t recognise the ability of the another to submit, it already foresees an ugly closure. But in the film, the specific turning point is when Mateo refuses to fellate Jerome, which frustrated him so much they eventually broke up. Whether it is an apparent choice from the director or the writer, it appears that sex is the moving force of their relationship. And with this, I wonder, is queer cinema limited only to highlighting the sexual and not the social aspect of a relationship? Or even the personal and spiritual? Is it too limiting?
Now that we have the niche, we better prove them right. If ever I get accused of too much intellectualising then how can we ever elevate the often-looked-down discourse on queer cinema if we don’t widen our ideas of the world? Queer cinema is just one of the books in the Old and New Testament of cinema that needs to develop; only when it ceases to be queer that queer cinema succeeds. * *
*Ang Lalake sa Parola is one of the films screened in the Director’s Cut: A festival of critically-acclaimed and controversial films by the country’s finest directors held at UP Film Institute, Cine Adarna from March 5-7, 2008.