Friday, August 22, 2008

Torotot (2008)

Torotot (Maryo J. De Los Reyes, 2008)
English Title: Destierro

The Tagalog term "torotot," apart from its ordinary definition of makeshift horns made out of paper and used film strips ordinarily used during celebrations, also colloquially refers to the repeated acts of infidelity the wife commits against her husband. It is a term that has an unsavory connotation to the husband involved, especially coming from a society that takes pride in its men's innate masculinity and sexual prowesses, whether imagined or not. It is derogatory to the husband since the term implies an inability on his part to sexually satisfy his wife. Being a semantic product of the traditionally patriarchal society that pervades the Philippines, the term "torotot" eludes any attempt at finding an accurate English translation.

Maryo J. De Los Reyes' Torotot, a film that details the story of two married men whose respective wives cheat on them, is internationally released as Destierro, a term that refers to the penalty imposed on the husband who kills his wife and/or her paramour upon catching them engaged in a sexual act. In lieu of incarceration, the husband will instead be prevented from being in a certain distance from the relatives of the killed wife and/or paramour. It is essentially a get-away-from-jail card whose basis as according to Philippine jurisprudence is to safeguard the Filipino male from the humiliation of being cheated on by his wife.

Leo (Baron Geisler), a standard bearer of the metrosexual male whose idea of male bonding includes trips to salons and skin clinics, is married to Marie (Maui Taylor), a veterinarian who is too busy with her dogs to spend any quality time with Leo. The film opens with Leo catching Marie and her lover (Andrew Schimmer) having sex in Marie's veterinary clinic, and eventually killing the two of them. He is thus sentenced to destierro and evades imprisonment. When Leo's best friend Gabby (Yul Servo) suspects that his wife Rita (Precious Adona) is cheating on him, he plans to kill both his wife and his wife's lover (Anton Bernardo) while having sex, relying on the impunity that the penalty of destierro has provided Leo and inevitably will provide him.

What essentially differentiates Torotot from all the other Filipino films that tackle marital infidelity (which includes De Los Reyes' previous film A Love Story (2007), a well-made melodrama about a man who becomes romantically involved with two women) is that it consciously brings to the fore the idea that the psyche of the Filipino male is steadily changing amidst the rapid cultural and social transitions that blur gender roles and preconceptions. The film attempts to pit this movement in gender politics towards equality and whatever residue, in the form of antiquated methods of thinking and laws, of the diminishing influences of the patriarchal society in the country. Sadly, it remains an attempt, a flimsy one at that.

There is little depth to the characterizations. Leo's narcissism feels more like a plot device borne out of convenience rather than a direct attempt to examine a pertinent social phenomenon. With Geisler's one-note portrayal of Leo (angst-ridden, rough, and loud), the character becomes fatally irritating. Rita's sexual awakening (initiated by a sexual affinity with meat before culminating with a torrid affair with a butcher) is crudely portrayed and unintentionally funny. De Los Reyes' need to infuse his pic with sex (probably from the prodding of producer Viva Films, a studio that used to churn out glossy romances and melodramas before ending up as the premiere distributor of direct-to-video straight and gay erotica) forces the attention to Rita's pathetic self-discovery, giving less time and story to Gabby's plight, who up to the end, is essentially a jerk both in life and in bed. Torotot is in one word, abrasive. It is an abrasive film about abrasive characters trapped in abrasive situations.

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