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Of love and prophecy

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2021 - 12:00am

As I wrote in my column last week, Filipino boys’ love (BL) web series bloomed in YouTube this year. “My Extraordinary” was the first BL series shown on free TV (TV5), while “The Boy Who Foretold the Stars” became an official entry to this year’s digital Metro Manila Film Festival.

The latter has a back story worth recalling. The script was written and directed by Dolly Dulu, a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. But they had to shop around for producers, to which four are credited. They shot amidst the pandemic, following strict protocols, and naturally hobbled by a small budget to be found in many debut productions.

But this did not prevent them from making a film that is refreshing and well-acted, with a great song (“Ulan”) and deft direction. “Ulan,” along with the great songs in “Gaya sa Pelikula,” “Hello Stranger” and “My Extraordinary,” are bound to be classics of Original Pilipino Music. All produced in the time of the pandemic, these songs of longing and love will still be sung decades from now, the way the songs of the 1970s OPM are still with us now.

The story follows the well-worn territory of BL shows but with a twist. Whereas in all the BL shows I have watched, both the male lead actors are straight-acting or bisexual, here one of the partners is out of the closet and effeminate. Thus, the hetero-normative stereotype of the BL series goes out the window.

Dominic Cruz (Adrian Lindayag) is the effeminate gay student from St. Francis School for boys. He falls in love with Luke Armada (Keann Johnson) when they meet in a Journey with the Lord Catholic retreat for boys. This experience, as well as some other scenes and tropes in the film, remind me of high school days at the Ateneo de Manila High School, with its Days with the Lord and intelligent, sympathetic priests.

In a star turn, Baby R (Iyah Mina), plays the celebrity fortune teller in Quiapo with a 99.5 percent accuracy who links the two young men together. Fluttering eyelashes and all, in a living room that is airy and drenched with light, Baby R said that Dominic will meet his soulmate in a week. She even said there will be three signs which will point out who the right person is.

Luke Armada (Keann Johnson) is the square-jawed, basketball-playing jock who just broke up with his busy girlfriend Karen (Rissey Reyes). He joins the Journey of the Lord retreat to take a breather from the depressing darkening days. Dominic initially likes someone else, but as fate (or fortune) would have it, he is assigned to be the sponsor of Luke. Both young men become instant friends, finding a haven in the turmoil of each other’s hearts.

There are enough back stories to serve as motivation for the characters of this film dealing with Catholic middle class. The boys’ rooms at home are comfortable, their English and Filipino are fluid, their body language natural. Dominic is not out at home, and Luke has feelings of abandonment because of family. Thus, he anchored his life on destiny: the flip of a coin landing on his open palm decided many events in his life. That is, until he has to choose between Dominic and Karen, in this film’s moving final scene. Dominic and Luke have great chemistry, which is an important ingredient in any BL show. The young actors parlayed their considerable theater experience into moving performances in this film.

Director Dolly Dulu keeps the pace of the film slow, like water flowing in the river, because that is how deep relationships develop. There are none of the love at first sight and scream till kingdom come scenes found in other BL shows. The cinematography by Marvin Reyes, production design by Lars Magbanua and music by Jhaye Cura are exemplary. The field abloom with lighted candles is jaw-dropping; the look is contemporary high-school; and the music is memorable. It received 12 nominations at the MIFF and won as Second Best Picture, the Gender Sensitivity Award and Gatpuno Antonio Villegas Memorial Award.

This romantic comedy does score points with its treatment of LGBTQ issues of discrimination and homophobia. But the treatment is light-hearted, not didactic, like bitter pills coated with sugar and color. It shows how it is to be young and in love. The partners side by side on top a hill while below them, the lights in the valley glow. Later, they stand side by side in a field lanterned with light, like a field of dreams. They talk deeply, stripped of all pretenses, and decide whether they will continue with the love that dares to speak its name.

You can still watch “The Boy Foretold by the Stars” as well as the other MMFF films like “Fan Girl” (Best Picture and winner of many major awards) through Upstream for P250. I also suggest that you watch the other Filipino BL series now still streaming for free on YouTube. The producers do not make a lot of money through YouTube. They will only have returns on their investment when many viewers watch the series from start to finish – and do not skip the advertisements that power the shows through revenues.

The BL phenomenon has also spawned a publishing boom. “Batang Poz,” a medical fiction, by Segundino Matias Jr. was a hit both as a book and a television show, and has a forthcoming book sequel. I have been asked to write my own BL book and to translate my novel, “Riverrun,” into Filipino. Gone were the days when Filipino writers who dealt with LGBTQ issues had difficulty finding an audience. Now, the publishers and film producers are the ones looking for well-written and bankable books and scripts.

And that is how the world turned in 2020, moving swiftly into the promises of 2021. Happy new year to all our readers in The Philippine STAR!

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com Danton Remoto’s “Riverrun” has just been published by Penguin Random House.

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