Jul 20, 2014

[Movies] Muli (2010)

I've yet to see a local LGBT movie that really impressed me in a significant way. A lot of independent cinema tends to lean heavily on stories that embellish concepts like poverty and our LGBT indies tend to focus on the tropes of forbidden love. To be fair, a lot of LGBT movies around touch on this same topic a lot given how it happens a lot of us during our times in the closet. Classic point of focus.

Muli tried to marry this classic story with Philippine history, particularly the traumatic Martial Law years. It's a decent enough strategy - take a decently emotional story and slap it on a highly emotional period in our nation's history. Get two good-looking actors to bring the story to life - this stuff practically makes it itself, right?

The movie wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. And looking at other reviews online, it's interesting how diverse the reactions to this piece have been. I suppose it's only fair - when you take material like this, some folks will just get swept away by the mood that this movie tries to create. Or you can see past the trappings and see something else entirely. That's the joy of film criticism - the many possible differences of opinion.

Synopsis: Muli (The Affair) is a 2010 movie directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr. The movie was based on the Carlos Palanca Award winning screenplay by Jerry Gracio. Sid Lucero had won the 2011 Gawad Urian Award for Best Actor and the 2011 Golden Screen Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Drama).

Jun Bernabe (Sid Lucero) is an ex-seminarian who has inherited a little inn (or perhaps a bed and breakfast?). He's focused on running the hotel, but also pursue communist ideals together with a few others. He also has a bit of a thing going on with Celest Dizor (Arnold Reyes) despite the group's rules against such relationships. Things shift a bit when a law student named Errol Agabin (Cogie Domingo) checks in at their inn as part of his own efforts to escape the stresses of his city life. Celest gets killed in some altercation. Jun gets depressed. A night of drinking together. A stolen kiss. You know the drill by now.

But then Errol pretends nothing happens the next day and he returns to Manila. Things jump forward and he's back and the seed from that drunken incident grows into something more. And while Errol's trips back to Baguio a few and far between, every time they're together they reconnect and the find themselves in bed together once more. But of course there are complications - Errol has a wife and eventually a family back in Manila, while Jun has his own things including a short time run with a student and eventually a longer-term relationship with a miner named Roland (Rocky Salumbides).

First, I have to put out a bit of a disclaimer - I knew Sid Lucero back in the day since we once went to school together. I'm not claiming to know him all that well based on that, nor am I disillusioned to think that my knowledge of him as a student in any way impacts his life as an actor. In only bring this up since part of the reason I took so long before watching this movie was me unsure if I wanted to see someone that I knew personally involved in the kind of soft core love scenes that we typically get in these "indies". But hey, it's all part of the cultural experience, right? Sooner or later you're bound to encounter someone that you know in real life up there on the big screen, or maybe just on your TV. And sometimes they're naked.

But back on point, I suppose this story might of made more sense as a screenplay. It has a rather epic scale and intellectuals love stories that try to explore some aspect of great moments in history like the Martial Law years. I can appreciate how a story like this could win a writing award. But overall execution didn't quite go all the way and I can see why it had more acting award nominations as opposed to directing. The only other Adolfo Alix movie that I've seen thus far was Daybreak, and that one didn't impress me at all.

Potential personal bias aside, Sid Lucero was pretty great as Jun. He conveyed a lot of complex emotions throughout the movie and he certainly has a pretense about him on-screen. He brought a certain intensity to the role, which was essential to it working. Cogie Domingo seemed a little understated in contrast - almost to the point of being coldly deadpan or something. And while I know he had to play things a little cooler given the nature of his character, I think it went too far and it was hard to feel any emotional sympathy for him more often than not. And that's kinda sad since I had a bit of a crush on Cogie Domingo back in the day. I didn't feel anything for him in this movie.

Everyone else was just so much window dressing. Clearly the likes of Salumbides had been cast due to their physique or something. Being a model doesn't make you a good actor, unfortunately.

Direction for this movie was horribly rough. I needed a better way of transitioning between the scenes. And I'm not talking about some literal overlay of Baguio, 1972 flashing on the screen or something. But simply cutting to the next period without any thought just made the movie a little confusing at times. And since it only depicts the times that Errol visits Baguio, you can imagine that there are a lot of jumps of time between visits. There were a few clever moments but more often than not you get confused little scenes that don't really add more value. And we also have a weird decision that the sex scenes almost always involve Jun riding Errol - but hey, maybe the character was just really into that position.

Whether it's a failure of the writing or the direction, what bothered me most is that I don't understand what exactly defined the relationship between Jun and Errol. Sure there's the visits over the years, but we don't really see what makes things so special and magical. And given that both of them find love with other people, this long-running affair is just...weird. And they never really act on it and ultimately the only solution to things is to wait for their partners to die in order to finally allow for them to be together. Although whether or not this is really what they wanted is unclear since it was never truly revealed in the narrative what kept bringing these two together year after year after year.

Muli actually means "again" by most typical translations and I don't necessarily see myself watching this movie again. It was just okay but nothing amazing and the Martial Law aspect to things felt tacked on and not at all essential to the overall plot. So the movie gets 3 instances of Jun cooking his somehow famous kaldereta for Errol out of a possible 5.

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