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

Kaleldo: Summer heat

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By Butch Francisco

Brillante Mendoza is a director to watch. Cineastes first got a glimmer of his importance as a new directorial talent in Masahista, which won a prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Masahista is a film about the lives of masseurs who double as male prostitutes, set in Manila and Pampanga (the director’s hometown) and with some dialogues in Kapapampangan. His second full-length feature, Kaleldo, is set entirely in Pampanga with more Pampango dialogues (and a corresponding set of English subtitles for the rest of us non-Pampangos).

Kaleldo is a Pampango word that means “summer.” The story however isn’t limited to this hot season but stretches a couple of years and covers both wet and dry seasons. It gives a glimpse of the colorful if quaint Holy Week rituals in Pampanga that should be a hit among foreigners in international film festivals.

But what should impress these foreigners—as well as local audiences—is the fine craftsmanship with which the director and his creative staff invests in the movie. Mendoza stops at nothing to make this film as perfect as he could. Every detail is correct, especially in the production design, for which Mendoza won a Gawad Urian for another movie several years ago. But even the other aspects of filmmaking have been meticulously planned and executed. If the movie were a Pampango dish, it would be Kapampangan haute cuisine that would satisfy the most fastidious gourmet.

Mendoza breathes life to Boots Pastor’s solid and beautiful screenplay about the fragility of relationships. And when relationships end or are threatened, he seems to suggest that there is always family to run to, or maybe family is the villain, the cause of one’s woes. Family then is both a comforting unit of society and its oppressor, especially when it comes to same-sex relationships.

The focus is on a patriarchal family led by Johnny Delgado, a widower with three strong-willed daughters: Angel Aquino, the ambitious two-timing wife of the laggard Alan Paule; Cherry Pie Picache, a cross-dressing butch type, whose constant companion and lover, Criselda Volks, is sexy and feminine; and Juliana Palermo, a free spirit who in the beginning of the movie is shown marrying Lauren Novero, a mama’s boy.

The scenes of the major characters are told in such a casual, realistic manner that you could see them in the households next door, or even your own home. It helps that Mendoza makes his characters do routine chores we perform in our daily lives. And what do Kapampangans do so well in real life but cook. Everyone has a tiny, ordinary business which when seen at a distance becomes extraordinary: sending signals of love, jumping right into it, a spat here, a reprimand there. So ordinary yet extraordinary.

Then they have their own businesses. The old man has his wood sculpture. Cherry Pie runs a food business. She sells atchara, and is shown making these pickled green papaya slices herself. She does what I’ve suspected all along—atchara makers use bare hands in mixing shreds of papaya, raisins, sugar, etc., which could somehow make one lose his taste for this local food preparation.

The actors give excellent performances: Delgado, Aquino, Paule, Novero, Palermo, Volks, and Liza Lorena,. The best of them however is Cherry Pie Picache who gamely and credibly does a steamy love scene with Volks. The part hardly shows naked flesh but Mendoza and his actors make it look so real, so erotic. Cherry Pie is one actress who inhabits her role, speaks the right intonation of the character, has gone butch earlier, as in Burlesk King, but she attacks her role in Kaleldo with appropriate manliness without reducing the character into a stereotype or caricature. In fact, she is the saddest, most touching character in the film.

Overall, Kaleldo shows the wide gamut of emotions, from high to low, hope to disappointment, with the prevalent mood being that of sorrow.