Scenes from Adolescence

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star
Scenes from Adolescence
A scene from Jun Lana’s Kalel, 15: The film is as timely as the latest HIV headlines.

Film review: Kalel, 15

MANILA, Philippines — Jun Lana’s latest excellent output is another jarring look at Philippine society and its hypocritical outlook.

While the focus is on a teenager who contacted HIV and he is only all of 15, the film manages to give us another curious look at this sector oftentimes referred to by the sitting vice president as the one belonging to the “laylayan ng lipunan,” so to speak.

The single mother Edith (Jaclyn Jose) manages to face life for what it is worth. Perhaps she has lost count of her lovers a daughter Sue (Gabby Padilla) has stopped being curious who her father was.

In the case of Kalel (Elijah Canlas), whereabouts of his father are common knowledge and it is no other than the now aging Fr. George (Eddie Garcia). That confessional scene with a distraught Kalel looking for his father tells us a lot about double standards in Philippine society.

Lana brings us closer to the shocking hearth and home of Kalel.

Years of struggle have led the mother (Jose) and daughter (Padilla) and son (Canlas) to get used to street language you cannot hear in polite society. They get drunk together after being confronted by the wife of the mother’s lover. But she hangs on to any sign of love wherever she can get it. Twice, she leaves her family and rans off with her latest lover leaving Kalel and his sister to fend for themselves.

The result is the unimaginable disintegration of the already dysfunctional family.

To Lana’s credit, the film avoids hysterical moments and unravel the story for what it is.

The brilliant screenplay captures the language of Lower Depth and the exchange always manages to shock.

Brother jokes that if his mother could not remember who his sister’s father was, could it be that her father was a dog? Yes, the language shocks but in that milieu, you see how low that family has gotten into without decent opportunities for social renewal.

The film succeeds in giving us another portrait of Philippine society that the house of the people (Congress) often ignore.

The film opens in that clinic where mother and son await result of medical test. When it comes out, there is neither shock nor surprise. But she is curious where her son got the fatal virus.

When his father (the padre) learns about it, he asks him pointedly: Did you have anal sex with anyone?

Kalel’s ordeals are reflections of how HIV patients are treated in this country. Poor mother is more concerned with hiding it from the neighborhood.

Even his close friends who promised not to tell anyone soon abandon him. The school administrator is shocked that students actually had sex that early and contacted the disease just like that. “How can this happen?” school administrator-nun expresses disappointment. “We are a Catholic school.”

When Kael’s sister got wind of it, she says matter-of-factly, “Kalel, you are indeed my brother.”

For what it is, Kalel, 15 is a revelation and a reminder that the less privileged sector of our society deserves so much better treatment and attention.

Canlas captures the innocence of Kalel and his unlikely journey to the labyrinth of adolescent sexuality. He is a young actor to watch.

Meanwhile, Jose as Kalel’s mother delivers another natural, if, riveting performance. Eddie Garcia wraps up an acting career of a lifetime in this role as father of Kalel. The rest of the cast (Elora Espano, Cedrick Juan and Sue Prado, among others) make up for a well-cohesive acting ensemble.

On top of this, the cinematography of Carlo Mendoza blends very well with the music of Teresa Barrozo.

Indeed, Kalel, 15 is as timely as latest findings that HIV cases have increased by 3,147 percent in 10 years.

Grim as the statistics are, Lana gave us a moving story on which to chart the future of our misguided youth.

Produced by Cignal Entertainment, Octobertrain Films and The IdeaFirst Company, Kalel, 15 is now showing in cinemas.

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