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Can a 12-year old lad who wishes he were a girl navigate the mean streets of Manila? Maxi cooks, cleans, and sews for his father and older brothers who are petty criminals. He's sweet, clever and hardworking, at ease with being gay, pinning a flower in his hair, swinging his hips when he walks, vamping with friends. He's seen adults hug and kiss and he's watched romantic movies, so on the verge of puberty, he develops a crush on Victor, a kindly young cop. Maxi's heart and loyalties are on a collision course: Victor is investigating crimes that lead him to Maxi's family. In the land of the morning, is there a place for this child of the sun returning?Written by
Dark, Campy, Brutally Honest Yet Heartwarming, 'Maximo' is Destined to be a Classic
One can seldom discuss gay Filipino films without mentioning the Lino Brocka classic, "Macho Dancer". For a long time the film lorded over all the others in gay filmdom (or is it 'film gaydom'?). Sure there were competent ones like "Aishite Masu" and "Markova: Comfort Gay" but they were never thisclose to "Macho". Could "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros" finally be the one true contender for the throne?
Director Aureus Solito and writer Michiko Yamamoto have crafted a very likable coming of age story. The treatment of Maximo Oliveros' (Nathan Lopez) homosexuality is unique and refreshing for it is never questioned nor made an issue, just a fact as true as the sky is blue. It's a huge credit to the filmmakers for not resorting to easy laughs at the expense of gay characters. Camp is absolutely present but it's never overdone. In fact, I think one of the main reasons why the film works so well is because the whole film isn't overdone. The filmmakers know when to pull back just before a scene turns mushy or heavyhanded. Even something as elaborate as the mini-pageant scene is cut long enough to avoid unnecessary melodrama.
One of the film's most interesting aspects for a lot of viewers is the seemingly astonishing possibility that an effeminate homosexual can exist relatively peacefully in the slums, aka Hoodlum Central. Although I haven't seen this myself, I am convinced that cultural mores make this scenario very possible. Despite the influence of homophobic Roman Catholicism, the general mood in the country is situated somewhere between amusement, acceptance, and tolerance (though not immune to occasional spurts of homophobia). Let us not forget that pre-Spanish Philippine culture respected the 'babaylan', a gay priest(ess) of sorts.
The homoerotic love angle is beautifully handled, in my opinion. To start with, the leads are perfect. Lopez carries the film as Maximo while JR Valentin as the cop is hunky yet brotherly, respectable as necessary but not too antiseptic. You get a sense of hero worship, excessive caring, and strong attraction from the side of Maximo while from the other side you see a fraternal sense of caring, naivete, and a culturally-imbibed politeness that supersedes any possible homophobia. There's also a delicious hint of ambiguity in his sexuality. There are a number of memorable scenes between the two, but a brief, well-handled, but highly erotic one (which, under a weaker filmmaker, could've easily bordered on pedophilia considering Maximo's age) and the emotionally satisfying ending stand out the most.
Despite the fact that Maximo Oliveros is unapologetically gay the film isn't strictly gay-themed unless you consider puppy love, unrequited love, familial obligations, and economic struggles as such.
It was a proud moment to watch a Filipino film in the prestigious Lincoln Center New Films/New Directors series in New York City. It was icing on the cake to see someone from the Univ. of the Philippines do good, in the gay arena, no less. "As good as Hollywood films"? I say better. When did Hollywood ever show us a coming of age story with a gay lead character?
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