#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.

 

Just The Fucking Worst: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten Receives an R-18 Rating

Yes, it’s good to remind ourselves of what’s making us happy every now & then, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore horrible shit. So here’s what is hopefully an occasional feature that highlights anything that is just the fucking worst.

The Filipino indie movie 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten, the winner of Best Picture in Cinema One Originals 2016, is released in theaters & more people should watch it while they still can. It’s a provocative, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of first love set during the 90s in a post-eruption Pampanga about Felix, whose ordinary life is rocked with the arrival of Magnus & Maxim, his two new Filipino-American classmates. It is also an exploration of American imperialism in the Philippines, the diaspora caused by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, & broken families. It is all of these things, mixed together in a unforgettable brew, without forgetting that the heart of this story is a boy who falls in love with another boy, who may not love him back.

And MTRCB decided that it should get a rating of R-18 in cinemas. You can see the complete rating below, but it contains few spoilers.

It’s an infuraiting, disappointing result struck down by the Movie & Television Review & Classification Board (MTRCB) on Petersen Vargas’ excellent film debut written by Jason Paul Laxamana. In response, Petersen Vargas wrote a long, passionate Twitter thread that is worth reading in full:

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Don’t get me wrong: 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten has acts of sex & violence throughout the movie. But most of its run-time is dedicated to the main characters’ struggles. Of course, when the movie does veer into adult material, it does so with maturity & restraint. There’s not even a trace of full frontal nudity here!

But the main sticking point appears to be the fact that its supposed propagation of murder, which is a flabbergasting read of the movie. Without getting revealing much of the film’s plot, it doesn’t propagate murder. There’s not even a scene here that can top Logan in terms of gratuitous violence, a movie full of blood & gore, including a child named Laura rolls a decapitated head to her captors.

And yet somehow Logan got a rating of R-16, continuing the double standard that acts of brutal violence are more tolerable in our conservative Filipino society compared to any depictions of sex, from the tame to gratuitous, especially if it concerns those in the LGBTQ+ community.

But what’s infuriating about this decision is it severely limits the movie’s audience, and it’s not just because of the rating. R-18 movies are almost non-existent in the Philippines thanks to SM Cinema’s draconian rule of banning R-18 movies in their malls, due to its owners’ insistence of delivering clean entertainment for the whole family. The problem is SM Malls are the largest mall chain in the country, and it has more provincial cinemas compared to its competitors. In a country where the movie-going experience barely exists outside malls, it’s a huge handicap to producers wanting to deliver movies with mature content to a bigger audience. Local producers were less hesitant to make films that might get an R-16 rating & international distributors stopped delivering movies that might get an R-18 rating; except for notable exceptions like the Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker. It created a cinematic ecosystem where family-friendly entertainment is valued more, which limits the kinds of movies people can watch. It’s a huge problem that the MTRCB made the R-16 rating just so movies containing adult material can get shown to a bigger audience.

Add to the fact that it’s a Filipino indie movie means its survival in theaters will be a steeper uphill climb, making it hard for the movie break out with the right audience.

And queer movies are more prone to receive harsher ratings, which is a huge shame. What Petersen Vargas wrote above making”every single boy whose confusions become their life sentence” less lonely is completely true. Not only that, these stories create diversity not just by representing an oft-maligned members of society, but also in the kinds of stories that can be told.

In the end, the losers here are not just creators who want to make risky, adult fare, but the audience losing out on a chance to watch it. The combination of MTRCB’s harsh, conservative ruling, SM Cinemas’ ban on R-18 movies, & theaters’ continued eagerness to pull out Filipino indie movies ensure that most Filipinos will live only on Hollywood blockbusters, romantic comedies, & the latest movies from Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, & Mother Lily who excuse their mediocre output by saying it’s great for the whole family. That’s not good for the country’s artistic & cultural growth in the long run.

And that’s just the fucking worst.