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

Rome and Juliet: No stereotyping of women who love women

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

THERE is a dearth of text in film on lesbian relationships in the Philippine setting. This is a sign of society’s tendency to erase such phenomenon in a Catholic country environment…as if this does not happen. And if it does it is considered a form of aberration and is considered to be a mortal sin.

“Rome and Juliet” is a film under the banner of Cinema One Originals, a production entity headed by Ronald Arguelles, that has opened up the venue for new filmmakers through its program of meticulously scrutinizing scripts and inviting directors who have new ways of telling their stories.

“Rome and Juliet” is a film that insists that viewers see that such relationships do happen. Director Connie Macatuno, with the script of Chris Violago, dares to take up a sensitive issue more specifically in a macho country such as ours. The film deals with lesbianism with new images and storyline. First we see the characters Rome and Juliet as being very “feminine” women images, each having particular heterosexual relationships, go into intimate and sexual bonding. These images of lesbians being feminine is right away a questioning of stereotyping of women who love women.

Juliet, performed by Andrea del Rosario, is a pre-school teacher who is soon to be married to Marc played by Rafael Rosell, a local politician who is being pressured by his mother into marrying a “respectable” woman. Rome played by Mylene Dizon is a wedding planner who is consistently being revisited by her male lovers.

Juliet and Marc contract Rome as the wedding planner of their grand marriage celebration as expected by the town and the relatives of the popular and dashing young “politico.”

The film touches on certain peculiarities of women relationships in its slow development that starts with pure friendship and trust sans sexual attraction. Juliet and Rome are having lunch-outs and exchanging insights on everyday happenings, which they cannot share in a relaxed mode with their boyfriends. They can be truer to themselves during moments of girlfriend bonding. The many times that Juliet and Rome are together bring out suspicion and jealousy in Marc. He cannot understand why Juliet spends more time and confides with Rome than with him. This is the moment when Juliet realizes that she has special feelings for Rome and that she too is starting to feel jealous of Rome’s lovers. Even Rome finds herself in this new experience, wanting to care for Juliet.

Director Macatuno brilliantly shows the difference of the kind of relationship that Marc has with Juliet. Examples are repetitive scenes of Marc asking Juliet to tie her hair back which obviously does not sit well with Juliet, signifying his control over his woman.

Also worth noticing is the scene that shows the seeming lack of understanding and tact in the confrontation between Marc and Juliet and he asks “ano ang meron siya na wala ako?” to which Juliet does not reply and shows a seeming simple shedding of tears but which actually means that no words can explain how she feels and knows that Marc would not understand anyway.

Macatuno, in wanting to show the complexity of society’s gendered view of women relationships, uses the two mother characters to bring up the outrage and lack of understanding of people that reinforce the marginalizing of lesbians. As far as Marc’s mother is concerned, it will hurt Marc’s image and reputation for losing his woman to another woman.

And as for Juliet’s mother, ably performed by Tessie Tomas, she cannot comprehend how her daughter could even think of letting go of a future that would elevate the whole family’s status through marrying a politically powerful man in exchange for an unpredictable relationship with a lesbian. This is seamlessly handled through a tightly knit exchange of words between mother and daughter.

“Rome and Juliet” is a work that does not hurry. It goes with the pace of how friendships develop and ultimately turns into intimacy. The meals that the two women enjoy, the sharing of work, the interactivity in the poetry sessions and the lovemaking are scenes that reinforce the growing bonding. There is no attempt either in eroticism that pushes for selling two women in bed. They are all tender moments, nothing hurried nor forced and imposed. Even the moments of jealousy are restrained and not intended to hurt anyone. Seemingly, the film does not want to offend its audience but to only deeply explain.

This is a film that carries with it the independent spirit that the films in the industry most specifically lack. Here is an attempt to extend the space for themes that do not adhere to the black and white categorizing of human beings, the dominant good over evil themes where boy meets girl and live happily ever after, and that there is only one way of living one’s life. This makes it a brave film that does not go with popular plots and storylines that tend simply to satisfy the claims of the dominant but dare to challenge the closed values of a system that silences notions that divert mainstream sensibilities. The Filipino public is ready for films that question and excite audiences to think for themselves.