Acclaimed movie: Ang Pagdadalaga …/ The Flowering returns to NYC on Dec. 9

by Gil Quito

Ang Pagdadalaga … | Photo via Gil Quito

NEW YORK – Years after the MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center chose Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros/The Flowering of Maximo Oliveros as its opening night presentation for the annual New Directors/New Films exhibition, Auraeus Solito’s Pagdadalaga will make a rare return appearance to a New York theater on Friday, December 9, at 7:30 PM.

The screening is at New York University’s King Juan Carlos Center, 53 Washington Sq S, NYC, NY 10012, and is free and open to the public. Proof of vaccination is required. The entrance to KJCC is the portal to the right of the church steeple dominating the south side of Washington Square. RSVP link: https://bit.ly/panawin2022

The film tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who falls in love with a cop investigating his family’s illegal livelihood. Among its many citations are Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Urian Dekada Award as one of the ten best Philippine films of the decade, and the Montreal World Film Festival as Best Film Feature.

Made with a minuscule budget of $40,000 and shot in 13 days, Auraeus Solito’s debut features The Flowering of Maximo Oliveros, with significant participation by debuting producer Raymond Lee, is another remarkable example of the resourcefulness, grit, and imaginative élan of Philippine independent filmmakers. It caused a stir at its premiere at Cinemalaya, the Philippines’ major independent film fest. It won the Special Jury Prize and a Special Citation for debuting lead actor Nathan Lopez. Among many festival appearances, it gained further awards and acclaim at the Berlin Int’l Film Festival, Sundance, and Rotterdam. In New York, the MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center chose Maximo to open the annual New Directors/New Films exhibition.

Notes about the Film

Maximo Oliveros is a twelve-year-old boy who goes around cheerfully wearing girly clothes and participates in neighborhood pretend beauty contests. Warmly accepted and loved by his rough-mannered father Paco (the great character actor Soliman Cruz) and elder brothers (Neil Ryan Sese and Ping Medina), Maxi has taken the role of his departed mother in cooking for the family and cleaning and decorating the house. Denizens of the Manila slums where they live generally treat Maxi as a colorful and cheerful part of the scrappy ecosystem. Maxi’s father and brothers are engaged in petty crime for a living while maintaining an understanding accommodation with the neighborhood police. Maxi’s world turns upside down when an idealistic neophyte cop (JR Valentin) saves him from an attack by a couple of thugs and becomes the object of the boy’s puppy love. (Nathan Lopez, who is heterosexual, got the role of Maxi by accident. He had merely accompanied a friend to an audition and got cast instead. He credits his sisters’ mentoring in nailing Maxi’s flamboyant personality.)

During its international festival run, Maximo was seen as a groundbreaker in how it dared depict a queer child’s burgeoning sexuality. The film was often cited for its delicate yet unapologetic and refreshingly nonchalant depiction of gay sexuality. In a review, Slant magazine’s Keith Ulrich praised the film for its “quietly revolutionary queer perspective.” He noted: “It is one of the great taboos, particularly in Western culture, to seriously consider the developing sexual feelings of children, a subject most easily infantilized, sensationalized, or brushed under the carpet, lest one become an unwitting Megan’s Law pariah. What’s often lost in this swirl of knee-jerk ‘adult’ protectiveness are the child’s feelings, which—raw though they may be—deserve to be included in the discussion rather than subsumed by argumentation.”

Maximo, for all the international buzz it generated, is only part of a strong tradition of depicting LGBTQ stories in Philippine cinema. A couple of streams can be traced in this tradition. The more extended stream, reaching back to the early 1950s comedies of superstar Dolphy, features gay and transgender characters in exaggerated, mocking, sometimes affectionate parodies. Depictions have become celebratory and campy displays of gay wit and survival instincts. Notably, five of the top-ten-grossing Philippine films of all time star Vice Ganda, a cross-dressing gay host, and comedian, all produced within the last ten years.

Another stream treats its LGBTQ characters with greater depth and seriousness. This can be traced back to the great Lino Brocka’s pioneering Tubog sa Ginto/Gold-Plated (1970) about a secretly homosexual man and his repressed wife. Since then, there has been a veritable cottage industry of films featuring LGBTQ stories. A list of outstanding works with strong LQBTQ characters and situations would include Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista/Masseur (Locarno Golden Leopard), Lav Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo/The Woman Who Left (Venice Golden Lion), and critical works by Jun Lana, Joselito Altarejos, and Adolfo Alix. Like Maximo, these films are often distinguished in how they expand their focus from the particularities of LGBTQ lives to broader issues and human dilemmas that concern society at large.

In the case of Maximo, the arrival of the kind, an idealistic cop, makes Maxi question the illegal way his family survives. As the story progresses, Maxi’s gayness becomes only a small part of the exploration of justice, corruption, compassion, mercilessness, familial love, and self-determination. These universal human themes animating Maximo have also preoccupied many films in the Philippine canon, whatever the gender identity of their characters, in a culture where independent cinema is not only a form of entertainment but also a means of moral and intellectual discourse.

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