Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The era of independent films has spawned a queer variety, of which there is a surge being produced across the globe, the Philippines included, to capture the many-nuanced gay experience. Hugot is no exception, but its social relevance—presented via a handful of postmodern tricks—goes far beyond the preoccupations of a few on titillating and providing escape for the audience.
Capitalizing on mostly neophyte production and acting teams, Hugot is a trilogy interrelated by a storyteller who practices the contemporary rage that’s weblogging. The first of these stories-within-a-story is about a lad, clad only in brief less to homoeroticize than to exhibit the closest thing to his true self, who is assailed not only by a recurrent dream of a clothesline aflame but also by a man in his same state of undress. It is suggested that the man is his conscience, and the very reason for the lad’s inability to finish his eulogy for his mother is the criminal act he had done against her, for which he is accosted by his conscience and dream.
The Freudian plot shifts to the gritty reality of urban Manila, where the remaining two stories about two activist nursing students and a cellular phone snatcher get entwined. In both plots, the audience stands witness to the brutalizing effects of poverty: the commodification and objectification of humans as well as the emergence of the baser nature of man.
One segment shows the mobile phone snatcher, fresh from plying his illegal trade, being slapped by his mother because he is not around when his younger sibling meets an accident. Apparently, he takes on the responsibility for the brother’s hospitalization. Since he is poor, he has fewer alternatives: to accept the meager contributions of his sympathetic gigolo friends and gay clients, and to prostitute himself. When a greater opportunity presents itself with the appearance of his newly-crowned and P8, 000 richer Miss Gay client, he chooses to go past prostitution and steals the gay’s cash prize, leaving the battered beauty queen for dead.
On the other side of the urban jungle, the other segment unreels with one of the activists, exhausted from a rally, falling unconscious while crossing the footbridge. A cruiser of a passerby offers to help the other activist by having the classmate brought to the former’s house until the patient recuperates. As the night wears on, the owner of the house convinces the nursing students to stay and join a drinking spree with the former’s fag hag. A little game ensues wherein the classmates get to answer questions ranging from student activism to sexual activities.
In the intertwined stories, the characters engage in an orgy of deals which had compromised their humanity in their pursuit for survival. The boy snatcher doubles as a sex object of his clients and the gay policeman for a little sum of money and for immunity from crime-bust, respectively. When his first objective falls short, he drops what little humanity he has and robs the beauconera (gay parlance for a veteran Miss Gay contestant) the amount required to save his brother. While his end is noble since anybody is willing to do the extreme for one’s family, his means begs for the question of just how extreme one can get: does this include trading one’s dignity, of which the snatcher gigolo has little remaining, to begin with? The course of the story affirms this, a proof of how poverty can make people turn on each other without any more regard for human compassion.
The nursing students, on the other hand, are drawn inexorably in the danger of the seemingly innocuous Socratic game. Parodying television shows that bait contestants with money in exchange of being publicly ridiculed for their bad command of English or hilarious sing-and-dance, the game show episode presents the activists stripping to their barest if their responses to questions fail to merit them the hundred-peso pot money. When the ultimate query of homosexual availability warrants the answer of “depende kung kaya ng bading ang presyo” (depends if the gay can afford the price), the owner of the house schemes by having the nursing classmates perform sex together. Joining them is the housemaid who, egged on by the fag hag, is forced to use her body if only to gain access to the ongoing spectacle. She, too, is made to disrobe by her master and, being powerless against the commands of stripping along with the activists, is seen wearing a face of defeat as she takes off her last satin-laced underwear. The following morning, the nursing student attending to the matricidal lad in the first episode is seen counting the payment for his previous night’s sexually-charged showing, implying that his personal principles had gone negotiable.
Notwithstanding the greenhorn that the production and acting teams are (manifested in designating the disorienting dream segment as the introductory episode, and in raw scenes wherein pixelated shots hurt the eyes, voices mimic the musical quality of tin cans and ham is seen in another way besides acting), Hugot is commendable for its witty dialogues, its attempt to appropriate postmodern treatments of fragmentation and metafiction, and its close simulation of urban social reality, all within the shoestring budget of P250,000. In a drinking session scene in which yet another commodified human, the female prostitute, advises the good-looking snatcher to fly to Japan “para maghosto” (to work as a male guest relations officer), she gets lambasted for something she herself cannot become rich from. A verbal retaliation follows, with the call girl dubbing all the boys as “pahada” (blowjob trippers) with the casualness of low-class people who have persevered much in life.
Like its anagrammatic fellow film Tuhog, Hugot can be viewed beyond the sex element and the title’s phallic overtone, for the blogger’s voice-over at the onset of the story rings truth: “Lahat ng kuwento, may paghuhugutan.” Whether one becomes a victim or one becomes an exploiter of power, one has a story to tell, drawn from the richness of experience, no matter how dehumanizing the experience may be.
Hugot, starring Ana Capri and written and directed by Jonison Fontanos, will have its scheduled commercial run soon owing to its successful premiere back-to-back with cinematographer Joni Gutierrez’ anagnoristic short films Cyberdaddy and Gutom in UP Film Institute last April 23, 2008.