Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (Auraeus Solito, 2005)
English Title: The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros
A pink orchid is salvaged by twelve year old Maximo Oliveros (Nathal Lopez) from a dirty canal. That delicate act by Maximo opens Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros). Maximo, lovingly referred to by his neighbors as Maxi, is gay. Despite his traditionally unaccepted gender, he is doted by his father (Soliman Cruz) and two older brothers. Maxi's family is engaged in a life of petty crime, ranging from the peddling illegal drugs to snatching cellular phones.
Despite this shady means of livelihood of the Oliveros family, the father keeps a code of discipline that each of the family members should follow: that while it is true that they are thieves, they are not murderers. The father has maintained a reputation within the community, earning the respect of the local police chief who gives him some sort of leeway to conduct his shady activities. Similar to orchid he plucks from the garbage, Maxi is the singly innocent person in that community that thrives in crime and poverty. He relishes in spending nights with his other gay friends, reenacting beauty pageants, or watching movies in the neighborhood DVD shop. One day, while walking alone at night, he is harassed by a couple of neighborhood thugs, only to be rescued by Victor Perez (JR Valentin), an idealistic cop who was just reassigned in the area.
The film is beautiful, carefully addressing the delicate coming-of-age of this atypical gay kid who is living in a world of complete disarray. There are no formal rites of passages, no overly elaborate plot that push him to grow up. Maxi's metaphoric blossoming results from what essentially is an innocent crush that curiously develops into an ambiguous attraction. Maxi's unabashed admiration for the upright policeman slowly changes Victor's officer-like and stoic predisposition, melting into a charming friendship. The friendship causes Maxi to unwittingly shove himself in a tug-of-war where his loyalty to his family is on one side and his immense admiration to the righteous cop on the other.
Solito tells the story in a tender yet assured fashion. There is no notion of exploitation despite the several instances where Maxi's admiration for the cop slowly erupt into a sort of sexual longing. Both humor and innocent romance are at work as Solito quietly puts into music Maxi's almost maternal tending to Victor's needs, especially when Victor falls victim to Maxi's family's rage, rendering the cop disabled for a few days. It's undeniably heartbreaking that despite that Maxi's homosexuality being almost a non-issue in the entire film, poverty, tradition-dictated morality, social and street justice, have impeded his search for true happiness, which at that point, cannot be achieved with relative ease. Maxi's dilemma seems easy as most gays in intolerant societies would imagine the slums area in the film as a Utopian paradise wherein homosexuality is exposed and is ultimately treasured.
Like all coming-of-age stories, Maxi's tale is eventually climaxed by a heartwrenching tragedy that forces that twelve year old to turn into an adult in a matter of days. Michiko Yamamoto's story and screenplay bursts with memorable anecdotes that proves her growth as a screenwriter since her amazing debut in Maryo J. delos Reyes' Magnifico (2003). She blends into the story a side plot of former rivals finally meeting again to rekindle and inevitably end, with fatal results. This side plot culminates in one of the film's most riveting scene, draped in a mixture of urban illumination and shadows by Nap Jamir's admirable digital cinematography, enunciated in the way the policeman and the new sergeant appear from complete darkness. The scene involves the new sergeant (Bodgie Pascua), who turns out to be Maxi's father's former bane. The father initially wanted to negotiate his son's arrest using words at first, then his gun, but upon meeting his equal, succumbs to become the victim of a long-planned vengeance.
Despite its meager roots and with a budget that would be microscopic if compared to Hollywood movies of the same theme, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros triumphs with its built-in sincerity and its refreshing emotional depth. The film does not wallow in melodramatics, or cheat itself and turn itself into an angsty and anger-ridden gay film. Instead, the film treads the more difficult path by putting a spotlight on the heartbreaking involuntary puncturing of the innocence of the only person that is pure and beautiful in the dirty slums of that Manila neighborhood. The gay boy we see picking up the flower from the canal in the beginning is completely different from the gay boy we later see walking past a longing policeman, stops, and eventually walks forward. Upon witnessing the events that ensued in his fateful blossoming, one can't help but feel a slight remorse knowing that there's a crack in Maxi's precious innocence. That Maxi has been pushed by a need to grow up faster than his peers.