Tuli (Auraeus Solito, 2005) January 26, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Indie Sine, Noypi, Queer, UP Screening.
Directed by Auraeus Solito
Cast: Desiree del Valle, Vanna Garcia, Luis Alandy, Carlo Aquino
Tuli is an interesting work. Among the countless digital films released in the past years, it is something that I would call “uniquely Filipino.” It deserves to be seen by more Filipinos, not only by audiences in foreign festivals who have always equated exoticism with beauty. While the West’s cultural exposure to our films means interest and appreciation, sometimes, the idea is filled with implicit self-servingness and personal ambition that misrepresentation is likely to occur.
It is completely different from its predecessor and successor. It lacks the girlish charm of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, a big risk considering that it is the filmmaker’s breakthrough work, and not far from being considered a landmark in Philippine cinema. I believe it is quite overpraised though. But what Solito has managed to pull off in his features is capturing the spirit of childhood nostalgia, the quixotic vision of adolescence, and that coexisting pain and thrill of growing up and seeing the world with a different set of eyes. Pisay, like Maxi, makes up for its proud excesses by being entertainingly intriguing. The amusement in watching Tuli, however, is derived from a unique understanding of tradition. Despite our cultural lenience to circumcision, its humor is unlike the appeal of both Maxi and Pisay, which says a lot about the potential of a schizophrenic filmmaker. Solito, in teaming up with competent screenwriters, shapes their prizewinning stories like they were his own, with acute emphasis on their environments that are less marginal than commonplace.
The ritual is only used as a device to suggest multitude of things. The film opens with pubescent boys lined up to be circumcised. With the help of his daughter, the town’s circumciser asks them to chew guava leaves before their foreskins are cut. Saying goodbye to their foreskins is their proud transition to manhood. Several years have passed, the boys have grown up and started to court women. A young man religiously woos Daisy, the circumciser’s daughter, who grows up frustrated with his drunkard father. In a quip of rebellious childishness, Daisy falls for her close friend, Botchok, and decides to live in with her after the man who got Botchok pregnant leaves. They form a relationship of undefined roles; they just want to be together, and they are happy. Meanwhile, the town is alarmed by their implicit blasphemy, blaming them for the ill omen. The film offers a vague closure, with the couple happily taking care of Daisy’s child from who used to be the town’s only uncircumcised male.
The unnamed barrio and its strict conservatism are fundamental in developing the story from a coming-of-age folk adolescence to a distinctly observed clash of the old and the new. There is a great deal of details given to show the town’s customs and traditions, its people’s superstitious beliefs from the talisman to faith healing, as well as Holy Week rites such as the reenactment of Christ’s life, pasyon, and penitence through scourging. In a particularly striking scene, Daisy scourges herself in the woods as punishment, implying the sense of cultural imprisonment that her rebellious character has to endure. The contradiction allows you to examine the motivations of each character that are sometimes too trite and incredible.
Solito has once expressed his admiration for Kidlat Tahimik’s Turumba, a sublime portrait of neocolonial occupation of a small town in Laguna, and in Tuli he has achieved that beleaguering effect of collision between two different worldly ideas, a civil war of values in a relatively modest community.
This is what queer films should regard with empathy: an introspective look on our roots. Instead of abusing, exploiting, and commodifying homosexuality, roads should be paved for a mature comprehension of their circumstances, of the decisions they have to make, of the lives they tend to lead. Tuli is Solito’s most unsuccessful work – – his music video for the Eraserheads is in fact even more popular – – but this is definitely a revelation of his importance in our thriving national cinema, a lasting voice in the cacophony of mainstream independence.