ImagineNative screens the beguiling Philippine feature The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros by director Kanakan Balintagos (aka Auraeus Solito; his experimental feature Basal Banar got an honourable mention at last year’s fest). The film is enjoying massive success, both at home and abroad, including being named best first fiction feature at the Montreal World Film Festival.
The film is about Maxi, an extremely femme 12-year-old boy who acts as little Suzie homemaker for his loving family, older brothers Boy and Bogs and his widower father Paco, who eke out a living in a Manila slum through petty thievery and racketeering. The lithe, sashaying Maxi unwittingly puts his family in danger when he falls in love with a straight, guileless young cop from the provinces named Victor. Soon a tough new police chief launches a brutal crackdown on illicit activity in the neighbourhood.
While, ultimately, a tragic tale of a boy torn between desire and family, the film is punctuated with humour and love. There is an unforgettable scene where Maxi and his friends reenact a Miss Universe pageant. Through dynamic visuals, Balintagos brings the neighbourhood and its memorable characters to life with energy and authenticity, which is in no doubt due to shooting it in the community where the director grew up. “I added some little details to the script of what growing up homosexual in the slums was like,” says Balintagos. “[The extras] are my childhood friends and my mother’s friends…. We were pretty close so when I started doing the film in the community everybody was just so cooperative. It was just like a tribe.
“Victor’s house is our house. [The shots of] the streets are very documentary — I started out in documentary.”
Supported by veteran theatre performers, young Nathan Lopez as Maxi stands out as an impressive discovery. “We really went around the city to look for real gay boys. But when they were auditioning, the real gay boys would overact from watching all the soap operas. [Lopez] was in a hip-hop dance team with his twin brother; he’s a straight boy.”
As for JR Valentin’s performance as Victor, Balintagos says, “He had this quality that was very subtle. I used to call him my Meryl Streep.”
Based on a script by Michiko Yamamoto, the project reached Balintagos at a propitious moment. “I was disillusioned with the Philippines,” says Balintagos, a member of the Palaw’an tribe. “Indigenous peoples’ rights were not moving. We were in the midst of an ancestral domain claim and nothing was happening. And then suddenly this film came.”