The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros: The maturing of local film stories

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During the past few months, the one film that had been the toast of local movie town is Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros – done in digital form.

Last Tuesday, when we were asked to report to the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) review, I was pleased no end when I was told we were watching Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. (They don’t tell us what we are watching until we get there to prevent board members from feigning illnesses or becoming suddenly unavailable just because the film up for review is obviously a lousy one.) Finally, I would have the chance to watch this film everybody is raving about – and I didn’t have to travel all the way to the CCP or UP Diliman.

With all the reviews that already came out extolling this film, most of you probably already know that Ang Pagdadalaga is about a pre-pubescent boy (Nathan Lopez) who is torn between his infatuation for a good-looking and kind-hearted cop (JR Valentin) and his loyalty to his family.

The story and plotline seem so simple, but the screenplay of Michiko Yamamoto (the same young talented writer who wrote Magnifico) and the directorial touches of Auraeus Solito tell us so much about life – slum life in particular.

In a world where people scrounge around for their next meal, the rules are different and we see that here in Pagdadalaga where Solito and Yamamoto serve as a slice of squalor life – the way it is lived by people in squatter colonies and without anything being prettified.

The cinematography, production design and other technical aspects of the film also help transport viewers into that kind of a milieu and you see, feel and almost smell poverty the way it is in this city.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros also scores high on my list because there are no stereotype characters here and the situations are never in black and white – just like in real life where there are a lot of gray areas.

And so we see here a family of thugs and thieves saying grace before meals and minding their manners at the dinner table. The young Maximo – as the openly effeminate kid – is also loved, cared for and protected by his tough guy father (Soliman Cruz) and two as macho-as-macho-can brothers (Neal Ryan Sese and Ping Medina). In your usual film, Maximo would be dead meat thrown into that kind of environment and home where machismo rules. But in Ang Pagdadalaga, Maximo is even comforted by his hoodlum of a brother and given a shoulder to cry on after getting spurned by the object of his fantasy.

The inspired performances of the cast members fortunately help Solito and Yamamoto realize their material on screen. Soliman Cruz and Neal Ryan Sese deliver equally fine performances and it helps that they quite resemble each other physically – making it more believable that they are father and son.

Ping Medina is a spitting image of his father, respected movie-TV-stage actor Pen Medina. The young Medina, however, doesn’t only take after his father in terms of looks. He also inherited his father’s acting talent – although there is a chance the son will even be a better actor than the father.

Bodjie Pascua, Kuya Bodjie to a whole generation of Batibot fans, gives a short, but marked performance in Ang Pagdadalaga as a police chief, who tries to play it straight, but isn’t necessarily all that clean.

JR Valentin as the young rookie actually fares a lot, lot better here in Ang Pagdadalaga compared to his performance as the rich husband of Francine Prieto in Bridal Shower.

Nathan Lopez, playing the title role Maximo Oliveros, is such a gem of an actor. Looking at him and hearing him speak, the exclusive schoolboy demeanor comes out every so often, but basically he is very convincing as a swishy kid who loves taking part in gay beauty pageants.

At the end of the Cinema Evaluation Board review, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was eventually graded A, which means that it gets a hundred percent tax rebate when it gets shown in selected commercial theaters at the end of this month.

A film like Ang Pagdadalaga should be given all the incentives and encouragement it could get from the local movie industry because it’s rare that a story like this one gets presented on the screen. And we have to thank the coming of digital films for this because a mainstream movie with its budget of P15-M would never gamble on a material like Ang Pagdadalaga.

With digital films, however, filmmakers can now play around with materials that don’t necessarily focus on the appeal of box-office actors – but on the basic story, which should always be the main concern of any movie.

In the digital project that is Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, we finally see – at long last! – the maturity of storytelling in Philippine cinema. — Butch Francisco