Despite being a country liberal to issues affecting the LGBT community, the Philippine cinema does not discuss them in mainstream movies. Instead, such materials are more prominently featured in shorts and indie films. Last night, in the eyes of her mentor and world-renowned Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, rising star Cataleya Surio presented two of her short films, both directed by Martin Mayuga, in a special screening post-birthday celebration.
Finish Line is about a transsexual who committed suicide after her medical operation into a woman. It is a character study and in its brief screen time, in silent and minimal ways, the central character is able to lay bare the anxieties behind her life-changing transition. What urged her to hang herself is open to interpretations but the obvious underlying motivation is regret. There must have been employment biases (hinted by the opening scene where she cuts a picture for her ID) or financial issues (indicated by her lowly lifestyle; e.g. dingy apartment, recycled canisters, etc.). Before the shorts’ credits roll in, a postscript states that not all who reaches the finish line wins. Indeed, all dreams come with a price. But if they are more than we have bargained for, then we need to reconsider if they are worth the price.
Pechay Baguio is the second short featured. Shot in location in the country’s summer capital, the film is visually stunning. It is truly Baguio, highlighted by the towering pines and the busy flea market. The narrative is too familiar and plot-driven, its events inspired by the actual and recent Jennifer Laude murder case. After discovering that the woman he is with is not exactly what he thinks of, the guy murders her in cold blood. (The woman eating a banana in the opening scene is a comic clue to what the man discovers in the climactic moment.) Instead of running away from the scene, the short takes on a Romeo-and-Juliet-like ending where both the leads die together. Carlo Fajarda also stars in the film opposite Surio as her love interest.
Over the two, Finish Line has more depth and meaning as it gives more analysis to the character. Yet, it is idle and the handful of dead moments may cut viewers’ interest. Meanwhile, Pechay Baguio is more suspenseful and with greater audience appeal. It is tight, fast-moving and surprisingly heart-breaking in the end. Its material is also very timely and relevant. While Surio overplays her role in the first film (possibly because the lack of screen partner necessitates more effort), she is comfortable and evidently having fun in the second.