There is a reason this film from the Philippines has garnered so much attention and audience approval at festivals around the world. Yes, it is a very low budget film (and technically that shows), but the message is a sound one. Not just another film about the massage parlor antics created to titillate the viewer, THE MASSEUR (MASAHISTA) as conceived and written for the screen by Boots Agbayani Pastor is a close examination of the old conflict between father and son, expectations and disappointments, needs and failures to fulfill, and in the end the mourning for a relationship that never succeeded. Director Brillante Mendoza has found the balance between sensual imagery and social comment that makes this little film work very well indeed.
Illiac (Coco Martin) is a handsome young lad who, because his alcoholic and carousing absentee father cannot support his family, has left his home to work as a masseur in Manila, assuming the financial responsibility of his family. Illiac works in a massage parlor - rooms like closets so close that conversations are easily heard - where he has his regular clients as well as newcomers, each of whom pays for massage an tips for all the 'extras' the boys are more than willing to offer for a price. The film moves back and forth between Illiac's home and his work in Manila and after his father dies, Illiac must return home and be the one who must assist the mortician in preparing his father's body for burial. This tradition becomes an analogy for the work Illiac performs on the massage table and the conversations and physical involvements between Illiac and client mirror the ministrations at the funeral parlor in a powerful and deeply moving way. Illiac is able to cope with both sides of his lot until he discovers some secrets left in his deceased father's belongings. At this point the concept of the film becomes touchingly apparent.
Though the cast is well known in the Philippines, only a few of the faces will be familiar to most viewers. What Mendoza is able to achieve with his cast is a feeling of honesty and ensemble work that allows both sides of Illiac's life to be credible. The film is in Tagalog with English subtitles and though the DVD cover would suggest this is a gay film, in reality it is a study of family life and the consequences of distance between father and son. It is worth viewing. Grady Harp
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