#52FilmsByWomen 2017 Film # 2: Baka Bukas

Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. The 2nd movie in my list is Samantha Lee’s Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow). 

There’s no question that Philippines is flooded with romantic movies. What’s exciting is they currently vary in tone & execution, thanks to the success of the Filipino independent scene, the major studios being more often to experimentation to create something unique yet palatable to all audiences, & those studios hiring writers & directors from the independent scene to make their own spin on a studio-approved romantic movie. This is how we got the formulaic delights of movies like Vince & Kath & James, the influential hugot-inspired leanings of That Thing Called Tadhana, the daring experimentation of 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten, or something push the studio template into exciting directions without breaking the template like Can We Still Be Friends?

Even if we are getting more romantic movies, it’s unfortunate that it’s still pretty much a heterosexual affair. While we do get movies like The Third Party Bakit Lahat ng Gwapo May Boyfriend? (Why Does Every Handsome Guy Have a Boyfriend?) from major studios, those are the exceptions from the rule. There are more romantic movies focusing on LGBTQ characters in the Filipino independent scene, which we should all be thankful for, but the number of movies coming out from that scene doesn’t quite match the number of romantic comedies with cishet couples at the center, & majority of those films are about gay couples. There still isn’t enough diversity in the kinds of stories that are getting made.

This is why a movie like Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow) stands out so much. It’s one of the few movies to focus on a lesbian couple. It builds off on the foundations of the current slate of romantic movies while setting off on its own path, even if the results are mixed.

Alex (Jasmin Curtis-Smith) is a lesbian whose relationship with Kate (Kate Alejandrino) just ended. She’s a creative working on multiple jobs & projects, one of which is pitching an idea for TV series focusing on a lesbian couple. She hasn’t told her best friend/rising actress Jess (Louise delos Reyes) about her sexuality yet. She even hid her previous relationship to Jess & told Kate she’s hiding it from her mother, instead of her best friend. When she finally comes out to Jess, it comes as a shock to her. It also forces Alex to confront her true feelings to Jess, which she’s been hiding for a very long time. When she comes clean to Jess, they try to be a couple, which turns serious the longer they stay together.

It’s a premise full of promise, but is hampered by the the couple at the center of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, Jasmin Curtis-Smith & Louise delos Reyes are both great in their respective roles. Both are great at capturing the confusing situation they found themselves in & portraying each of their respective struggles & it’s easy to buy them as long-time best friends. But together, they have romantic chemistry so forced, it might as well be non-existent. Even odder is Jasmin Curtis-Smith has better chemistry with Kate Alejandrino compared to Louise delos Reyes. This works to the movie’s advantage when both of them are figuring out how to navigate their new relationship status, but it fails them when they’re supposed to fall for each other. The impression that it started as a whim between two best friends never goes away.

It’s such a shame, since the stiff romance, which is the movie’s main focus, drags an insightful, personal movie along with it. It presents a non-stereotypical lesbian couple in a world where homosexuality is only tolerated, but not fully accepted or understood – alternatively called current-era Philippines – probing its flaws by adding social satire in a very intimate movie. Alex’s pitch is daunted by concerns & questions about how advertisers might be wary to support a show with a lesbian couple at the center, how coming out isn’t a “thing” anymore, & how they’re wary of showing two women kissing in romantic manner. Meanwhile, Jess is daunted with concerns on how her relationship with Alex might affect her career as a respected actress & how she views herself; since she’s only dated guys.

But its best insight has to be the process of “coming out” is a constant process. Members of the LGBTQ community will have to decide whether to reveal or hide their gender, & if they’re willing to deal with the consequences. This is not only reflected in Alex’s story, but in another one where her co-worker/friend Julo (Gio Gahol) wonders if their other co-worker/friend David (Nelsito Gomez) is gay, since Julo has a crush on him & David hasn’t really been forward about his gender.

The setting also provides a chance to explore the world of trendy, upper-class creatives. It really shows with its gorgeous, softly lit cinematography by Sasha Palomares, making it look like it was filtered through VSCO filters, & the spare, synth-heavy score from Denise Santos with help from BP Valenzuela. And while that’s a setting that’s already been done before, Baka Bukas finds a way to make it an important part of the story.

Jess finds herself way out of her league with Alex & her friends. To Alex’s friends, Jess is an uncool outsider who peddles cheap entertainment, wears a sparkly dress to a hip club, & only uses Instagram filters instead of editing her pictures through Snapseed & VSCO. While it is a slobs vs. snobs fight between upper-middle class citizens, it pokes fun at the arrogance of people like Julo & David, who look down on anything uncool or made for the masses. Yet it becomes clear that the movie doesn’t really dive deeper into this conflict, since the movie presents their horrible behavior without fully admonishing it or exploring it further. If it’s a way to feature these types of people in this setting, it doesn’t work since the movie is exploring different issues thoughtfully, while this aspect feels undercooked.

Add a rushed, ambiguous ending, & the whole movie ends up being a frustrating mess. We should still be thankful this movie exists. Its aims are admirable, it has a shiny, bright exterior, & it has lots on its mind, but it can’t overcome the dull romance at the center of this movie. Maybe someday we’ll get our great lesbian romance for the modern Filipino era.