Recently, I have had the opportunity to view gay-themed indie movies and it all started with getting an invite from Lex Bonife for Little Boy, Big Boy. Since then, I have watched both Pipo and Bayaw (which I will both review in the next weeks).
Just this week, I was able to attend a special screening of the latest film from Jay Altarejos, Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan, at Mogwai Cafe in Cubao.It is not a usual venue for premieres and screenings but the ambiance of the screening room was very intimate. For an indie film, it allows the filmmakers to have a closer interaction with their audience.
Not being picky, I was a bit confused with Juan traveling from his rented room to where he was working as a performer. He stopped over in Manila to buy a can of biscuits. Normally, these biscuits are purchased on the bus station itself prior to boarding the bus especially since it is a bit cumbersome to carry around the city. I did found the song that accompanied Juan while contemplated by the bridge in Manila truly appropriate. Lex Bonife is credited for that song.
The story had revolved around Juan who had decided to return to Masbate after struggling in Manila for three years only to have ended up as a masseur / sex performer for lack of an easy way to earn money. It shows how the lead character interacts with his neighbors and partner as he says his goodbyes. Then leads to his trip to what is supposedly his last day of work as a performer in a private gay club.
For me, it was not a struggle of deciding whether to push through with returning home to his province or not. It was acceptance of his decision and pushing through with it. You know he is struggling however his life in Manila brought him a lot of friends including a partner. His decision is rooted on the family he left behind. Ironically in the end, the situation he allowed himself to be in takes the decision out of his hands. A reflection of life, sometimes we plan too much only to have the decision made by others or by circumstances.
Jay Altajeros definitely is not your run of the mill director. He uses long one-camera shots that is difficult to orchestrate and works well with the narrative. He does not rest on his laurels and experiments on how to bring their story to the screen. Considering financial limitations, he makes sure that each of his films feel like it's something new, not a rehash of his previous films.
Angeli Bayani (2008 Cinemanila’s Asian Best Actress), for me stole the show with her performance. Unforgettable is the scene when the rice she bought using the money she borrowed from Juan spilled onto the wet sidewalk. For me, it depicts the Filipino's resilience. Down to our last resources, we will use them to the last drop.It also superimposed how pushed to the wall her character was which leads to her her fateful decision at the end of the movie.
Nico Antonio, of the singing group VOIZboys, is the partner of the lead character. He struggled with letting Juan go and pursuading him to stay. I am unfamiliar with his acting credentials, but he does the character justice for what limited time he is given on screen.
The lead character, Juan, is played by indie veteran, Ray-An Dulay. He made an impact on his first film, Bathhouse, and has a Altarejos movie under his belt, Kambyo. Onscreen he appears a bit lanky but in person, he makes an impression on you that he is Juan. It did not create that illusion on film. Then again, maybe I am prejudiced on what I look for in a guy. BUT. He, however, does a good turn as Juan. I got to meet a lot of the people who lent their talents to the completion of this movie including Ace Ricafort and Tony Lapeña who were daring in their roles as the Tupada Boys. May-I Fabros and Fabillar, who had short roles in the film, were truly accomodating and truly friendly.
Take the time and add this film to be one of the films you are watching this week. Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan will be shown in selected Robinsons cinemas starting, tomorrow, October 21.