Mar 1, 2015

[Movies] Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)

So when I wrote my review for the stage musical version of Ang Pagdadalafga ni Maximo Oliveros, I realized that the Geeky Guide still didn't have a formal review for the independent movie that the play had been based on. It has been quite a while since I've watched this movie and admittedly the theatrical production is largely more memorable except for certain aspects.

But Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a special film and one that was rather unique in terms of its subject matter and tone. And this movie came out around the time just when the whole rush of local independent LGBT movies was just beginning to gather steam and thus the few efforts were pretty solid. These days there are so many crazy LGBT movie projects, many of them feeling like little more than badly-acted soft porn.

This wasn't anything like that despite the potential complexity of the story and its subject matter and related themes. After all, beyond being a coming of age story, it's also a story of a young gay boy with some rather adult feelings for a much older crush. There were so many ways that this movie could have gone wrong, but instead we ended up with a movie that ended up being so right.

Synopsis: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) is a 2005 independent LGBT Filipino movie directed by Auraeus Solito. The screenplay was written by Michiko Yamamoto and it debuted at Cinemalaya 2005.

Young Maxi (Nathan Lopez) is a rather effeminate 12 year old boy living with his father and his brother. He's still in school while his father and brother are actually petty thieves in terms of how they make ends meet. Despite the hardships of his life, he has a generally sunny and cheerful disposition and seems pretty optimistic about most things. What's most striking is that his family fully accepts his gender identity (or at least how it manifests) complete with his love for hair clips, hairbands and other traditionally female accouterments.

Things shift a bit once a handsome young police officer Victor (JR Valentin) is assigned to their district and Maxi is immediately smitten. Things are helped along even further when Maxi is nearly molested by a group of thugs only to be rescued by Victor. Thus he begins to shower Victor with attention and little affections like trying to offer to prepare food for him and such. Such is young love.

The is many things, but what it isn't is sleazy. It would have been far too easy to turn this movie into some dark and gritty exploitation story with a focus on an illicit romance of sorts between a cop and an underaged boy. But instead it's an almost magical, whimsical tale that just presents things as they without a need to dress things up in a significant manner.

Maxi is an amazingly complex character and Nathan  Lopez does a tremendous job of bringing the character to life. On the surface it's easy to dismiss Maxi as a frivolous young gay boy with little concern for "right" and "wrong" or something like that. But really what you have is an honest and caring soul who only wants the best for his family and those he loves. On some level he understands the risks that his father and brother take given their "trade" but he treats these merely as part of the reality of life. His role is to care for them and to cook for them and to continue to go to school.

The friendship with Victor is even more complex and adds shades of gray to everyone. For Maxi we have him exploring his first real crush and to some extent his first limited foray into sharing intimacy with someone else. Victor's character remains annoyingly yet brilliantly vague since it's never clear what his gender identity is supposed to be. He seems to return some of Maxi's affections, but at the same time it's easy to dismiss this as the sort of platonic love an older brother figure would share.

The movie at times feels rather stark in its manner of presenting things with rather choice scoring limited to key moments. The use of dialog is tailored to maximum effect given moments of non-dialog that can be heavily silent or light given the use of music and other gimmicks. I really enjoyed the interplay of these moments and how everything came together

There's a lot of weight to this story and as much as Maxi seems all happy-go-lucky and such, it's still not a straight up comedy or something like that. It's dramatic but not overly depressing and it will make you think about things a bit more. What does it mean to be family? How does one accept someone so young embracing a gender identity that still feels taboo for most people? What are the limitations of a relationship between two individuals of such significant age differences? You'll come up with a heck of a lot more questions, to be sure.

Om the whole, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a deceptively simply yet strikingly beautiful story blessed with some rather fine actors. I really enjoyed it and I think it still holds a lot of value, regardless of which concept of gender that you think applies to you. So the movie gets a good 4.5 quirky things Maxi and his friends do in their spare time out of a possible 5.

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