December 8, 2009

Review: Ang Lihim ni Antonio

Ang Lihim ni Antonio (directed by Joselito Altajeros, written by Lex Bonife) is one of the few gay film that gets it right. It tells a good story about a teenager's tumultuous transition from childhood innocence to the daunting complications of adulthood. The film catches Antonio in that delicate moment his sexuality unravels.

There's lots of sex here, graphic, yes, but the awkward kind mostly, where the lead actor, (played by Kenji Garcia) is all shaky hands and flushed face, but braving it all in the name of exploration and coming to terms with himself. It is incestous, all right, but Antonio has found an alliance with his very animalistic uncle Jonbert (played by Josh Ivan Morales), in ways that even his bestfriend Mike (Jiro Manio) cannot offer.

What makes the sex scenes in Ang Lihim ni Antonio jittery for us audience is that we all have memories of our "first time", faint for some, vivid for others. We know there is no turning back. We at least know the exhilaration, the tension, and the deliciousness of the "forbidden", long before we learn that what society regards as "forbidden" is just based on some self-righteous patriarchal bullshit.

The film is set in the green city of Marikina, with its clean streets and orderly way of living (Marikina is, of course, run by Bayani Fernando with his strict ordinances). We see Antonio biking in the opening scene while he lets us inside his thoughts. The classic ruminative troubled gay guy. No explanation is needed for his being gay; it's not chalked up to his absent father who works abroad and has made a new family already. He is just the way it is, not effeminate, not laughable, not trying hard to cover up anything either, not sorry-looking either. Antonio is just biking, or surfing on the Net with his Friendster account hacked and his profile picture changed (identity issue), caroling with friends, and then later during the day, buying shoes with his mom played by Sharmaine Buencamino, who is in denial that her husband has left them already.

Even his bestfriend Mike is not stereotyped. Jiro Manio plays a convincing bloke who has just discovered his bestfriend likes guys, and, instead of turning a homophobic back on Antonio, goes out to Google about homosexuality so he'd understand more and report his little research to his friend while they're flanked by giant sculptures in the park. Real friendly and overboard, but in the hands of Jiro Manio, very nicely done.

It is also Christmastime. A time of merry carols and bright Christmas lights and a general sense of happiness. Which makes the succeeding events all the more devastating in their juxtapostion. It creates a lulling effect, making us complacent. The film has many long takes, not just in the sex scenes but little everyday things as well, like biking or browsing the Web. That way no one complains of unbalanced overexposure.

When Antonio and his mom talk about whether a man can be raped or not, his mom says yes, invoking that everyone has rights in this world. Even gay people, of course, though Mother doesn't know yet about Antonio's secret. That's why Ang Lihim ni Antonio gets it right. While other gay films show us so much, Ang Lihim ni Antonio simply tells a good story that makes us think about it long after Antonio's secret is spilled out.

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