Boy (Auraeus Solito, 2009)
A boy (Aeious Asin) enters a gay nightclub one lazy Sunday night. The nightclub is empty except for its usual denizens: the overzealous yet mysteriously wise floor manager, his gang of overdressed transvestite performers, and the club's featured attractions, a harem of near-naked macho dancers gyrating to songs that echo everlasting love. The boy is a newbie to these affairs, unaware of the codes of the trade inside the dimly lit halls of the club, and needy of a an elementary guide into a lifestyle that he was born to live with, which the floor manager is more than willing to provide. Another love song sets the mood as an eighteen year old performer stage-named Aries (Aries Pena), clad only in suggestive underwear, dances on stage. The boy is clearly beholden. Is it love that explains why the way his gaze seems to only long for this macho dancer, to the exclusion of the club's other performers? Is it lust that rationalizes why his loving gaze results in his uncontrollable hard-on? Is there really a difference, or the two are so intertwined that it is frankly impossible to discern?
After the success of Lino Brocka's Macho Dancer (1988), a genre of the macho dancer film was born. These films were created in a society that while tolerant to the gay community, is unforgiving toward its presumably hedonistic characteristics. In fact, Brocka's Macho Dancer, Mel Chionglo's Sibak (Midnight Dancers, 1994), Burlesk King (1999), and Twilight Dancers (2006), and Joel Lamangan's Walang Kawala (No Way Out, 2008) and Heavenly Touch (2009), and all the other features that have exploited the overused narrative angle of the poor straight macho dancer exploited by their rich gay patrons, are all borne out of a heterosexual mindset. These films, while careless in its exposition of male flesh, are too careful to suggest even a slightest tinge of love among its superfluous invitations for carnal indulgence. This is perhaps to protect certain antiquated codes: that homosexual love and lovemaking is abnormal and the only way a man can engage in it is by abusing the victims of the most abnormal yet prevalent of occurrences in the Philippine setting: poverty.
Aureaus Solito's Boy is the ideal macho dancer film, one that maintains the unhindered erotic possibilities of gazing at naked bodies in the safety and privacy of a darkened cinema, without the implicated guilt of doing so and more importantly, absent the always useless and hypocritical social pedagogy that has become synonymous with the abused genre. Boy refuses to apologize for all the homoerotic images on display. It does not urge you to develop pity or even sympathy on Aries despite his unflattering profession. In one scene, as the boy feels through the poverty of Aries' meager shanty in the heart of the slums, Aries suddenly starts gyrating in front of the boy, declaring that he dances because he loves the attention he gets while performing. The social gap between the boy and Aries, while apparent, is not exploited to push an antiquated post-Brocka advocacy. Instead, the film only points out the gap to emphasize that in the affairs of the heart and other burgeoning emotions, capitalist conditions such as wealth and social status have no pertinence. There are no exploiters or victims, just lovers on the verge of a beautiful self-discovery.
Absent any forced social implication, the film focuses on exploring the gay psyche, lyrically exposing the mysteries of homosexual attraction and the path to self-discovery. Solito lays down the fundamentals of gay love, picturing it with the normalcy that is attributed to heterosexual love: the way the two are fueled by exactly the same elements, only marked by the gargantuan difference in the way society regards or tolerates gay relationships as opposed to straight ones. Solito satisfyingly keeps the narrative within the intimate circumstances of the boy's path to self-discovery, limiting the characters to those who actually matter in their lives: the boy's mother (Madeleine Nicolas), a heartfelt creation who is lovingly mum about his son's homosexuality while struggling with her husband's lack of time for them; and Aries' father (Noni Buencamino), who is similarly situated with the boy's mother in silently tolerating his son's sexual affinity (as defined by his profession) while desperately clinging to being a father figure despite unbearable financial hardships. While Solito makes use of poetry recited throughout the film, gay attraction is still defined by an indubitable normalcy in the way that it is humanized not by the intoxicating poetic recitations but by the simplicity of its unfrazzled existence in the lives of the boy and his macho dancer, whose attraction to each other is derived from interacting pheromones and sweat, the primal stuff that drives them to first lust then love.
When the boy and Aries make love in the boy's room, Solito's camera captures them through the glass, the water, and the floating silt of the aquarium that the boy collects in his room. He talks of his collection of aquariums as approximations of his fish's natural ecosystem. Cinema has been to tasked to approximate truth with filmmakers struggling to create an illusion of reality with stories that partake a semblance of living. In a way, cinema, more specifically Philippine cinema, has betrayed its homosexual patrons, portraying them as voracious predators whose concept of love is always intertwined with capitalist oppression or a sinful lifestyle that is exclusively driven by hedonistic and animalistic tendencies. As we watch the boy and Aries in passionate lovemaking through the aquarium, we come to understand what essentially gives life to homosexual love. Without any pretenses of having the two characters find that perfect love (a concept that the film consciously avoided) or pushing the boundaries of such love to touch on socio-political worries, the film arrives at the core of homosexuality: that the two boys make love simply because they are at that point of their lives, in love.