Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boatman (1984)

Boatman (Tikoy Aguiluz, 1984)

The first thing we see in Tikoy Aguiluz's Boatman is the gleaming revealed blade of a balisong (a switchblade knife made in the province of Batangas). A group of prepubescent boys line up to an old man carrying the blade and a stack of leaves. The bravest one presents himself as the first boy to be circumcized. Tikoy Aguiluz allows us to see the details of the ceremonial passage to manhood: the old man pulls the foreskin from the penis and attaches it to the implement before slicing it off; the kid then spits the chewed leaves before jumping into the river. Aguiluz cuts to the same river, and appearing from the river is Felipe (Ronnie Lazaro), presumably the brave kid many years later now grown into an ambitious boatman who delivers tourists from town to the waterfalls of Pagsanjan.

The tourist spot invites a lot of people including a movie crew which Felipe convinces himself as his way out of limited opportunities of Pagsanjan. Pandy (Jonas Sebastian), a gay man who is busying himself on an idea for a book on how a probinsyano (provincial man) would live in the tempting streets of the big city, eyes Felipe for his literary experiment. Felipe thus falls to Pandy's invitations and becomes a torero (live sex performer) in Manila.

Aguiluz paints the lives of the toreros with astute details. During the "practice" sessions of Felipe (his stage name is Boy Toro VI, we get a glimpse of how many have fallen into such flesh trade) and his partner Gigi (Sarsi Emmanuelle), a tinge of theatric artistry is fused with the prurient show (the several positions are shown with witty commentaries: around the world is when the girl does a 360 degree turn while fucking; more funny is the scenarios when fucking the wife of a friend who is working abroad). The partnership between Felipe and Gigi evolve into something symbiotic. Their sweaty lovemaking transcends the voyeurist qualities of their rehearsed acts. The eroticism divides the reenacted and the spontaneous.

I've always thought Boatman is a harsh critique on the Filipino macho. From the moment of circumcision to the ending, we witness a man trying to keep afloat while traversing his path to his ambitions. Observe his several relationships with his women; first, with his girlfriend (Susan Africa) in Pagsanjan who he leaves in a whim and an unassured promises of the city; second, with Gigi, whom we can observe in a quasi-marital relationship with all the intriguing quirks of a distinctly patriarchal Filipino marriage (Felipe brings home the money while Gigi spends it; more disturbing is the added value of their profession wherein Felipe is allowed to fuck around with many women but Gigi is exclusively Felipe's).

Lastly, with Emily (Suzanne Love), who is the first woman to pierce the fiction of Felipe's imagined male superiority. Felipe's ambition hinges on his relationship with Emily, and his illusion of subjecting her to his male prowess. The result is of course tragedy; and it is Felipe's simplistic view of the world that invites such tragedy.

The wrap-up the film completes Felipe's journey in the city in shocking climax. That ending succeeds in putting more disgrace in the profession wherein Felipe's primal mindset is so well-suited, and also gives the film's intro an ironic relevance to the film's themes: that it is circumcision that brings Felipe to this manly world, and a similar (although much more violent) act would completely erase his mark in the world. The punchline of the film is that Felipe is a man who thinks, acts, and earns with his prick; and thus, his significance and existence ends when his prick has lost its power to fuck.


Noel Vera said...

A harsh critic of the Filipino macho, from this most macho of filmmakers. You got it!

Oggs Cruz said...

Most macho of filmmakers (haven't met him personally but his mustache is intimidating; I can't grow one even if I tried, hehe)? Probably why it's so accurate.