“1017: Sa Paglaya ng Aking Salita”
Espejo Productions, 2009
Starring: Kristofer King, G.A. Villafuerte, Rain Rosario, and Khalel Urdaneta
With the special participation of: Benji Garcia, Cris Aldaba, Tiya Pusit, and Tata Pido
Written and directed by: Zig Madamba Dulay
I’m not a movie reviewer (heck, I didn’t review Watchmen), and I’m not a big fan of “gay indy art film.” The success of films like Beautiful Boxer, Brokeback Mountain, and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros have definitely made the queer theme popular. “Gay indy art film” is now a recurrent theme in school projects, among small independent filmmakers, and is now even explored by mainstream cinema.
Film, to me, is as much about the story as it is about the performance. 1017 may not be the most star-studded indy movie out there, and it may not have the gratuitous displays of male nudity and man-to-man sex that we have come to expect of independent films, but it is tied together by a very well-grounded story.
When Zig asked me to “review” his debut film for him through here, I was rather surprised. For one, I was not able to make it to the premiere at Cine Adarna, so I caught one of the last few showings at Mogwai a couple of weeks ago, missing out on the Cine Adarna premiere (which wasn’t bad; this makes after-movie drinking more convenient than, say, taking the Ikot jeep all the way to Sarah’s at UP Diliman). Besides, Zig is a master of the Filipino language, and to write a review in English for a film written and acted out in Filipino is sort of com si, com sa. So, here goes nothing.
A Brief (and Probably Unjust Description of the) Plot
1017 is set during Proclamation 1017. Mando, a new recruit to the movement, was a childhood friend of Julian. Mando had affectionate feelings for Julian, and often made up poems to show his love for Julian, who never really knew. From the rallies at Ayala Triangle, Julian and Mando travel to the mountains, where they make a brief stopover to friendly territory. Mando leaves behind his friends, who didn’t know that their friend left for the countryside.
Soon enough they meet a comedic gay character in Nanong – an archetypal funny parlorista-type gay dude – who flirts around with a quiet Julian. He has no problems expressing affection, but Mando does; he struggles to contain his emotions around Julian, even if they bathe in the river or if Julian carries Mando on his back. The story then segues to Nanong who, despite his cheerful demeanor, was demeaned and raped and humiliated for being gay. Julian then explains to a curious Mando the ways of the movement when it comes to love: no restrictions, just as long as the proper rules of procedure is followed.
The troop reaches camp, and news arrives that Proclamation 1017 was in effect. The brigade should be on the ready; the enemy can attack at any time. At the watch, Mando is introduced to Julian’s girlfriend, which sort of leads to an interesting awkward moment. It is then that the leader of the brigade – who happens to be gay – reminds Mando: “Paano mo mapapalaya ang bayan, kung ang sarili mo ay di mo mapalaya?”
The enemy then approaches, and the brigade is alerted to the corpse of Nanong. Realizing that this may be the only moment that he can truly say what he really feels, Mando approaches Julian during battle preparations. Instead, Julian shows him how to use a gun. The gun battle lasts until the wee hours of the morning, with Julian at the front line and Mando hiding in the brush. The very next morning, Mando approaches two dead bodies on the jungle floor. There was Julian and his girlfriend, locked in an embrace, mortally wounded, dead. With Mando’s emotions taking over, he takes the gun, moves forward… and the screen fades to black.
The Review Part
What sets 1017 apart from the “gay indy art film” genre is that there are no sex scenes. This is a very radical departure from the mainstream of alternative cinema, because it banks on emotion rather than titillation. 1017 is a very political film that banks on making the gay theme work in a context; in this case, rebellion and politics at a time of civil and social unrest. As a “gay indy art film,” 1017 did not have to give the usual, stereotypical scenes of steamy homosexual sexual encounters to provide a story arc. It had a story arc; a love, no matter how unrequited or different, between Mando and Julian.
Granted that a lot of the implications here have to do with the radical militant left, but the filmmakers have done their research well. While a lot of signs and scenes here have something to do with militants, it behooves the viewer to go beyond that and watch 1017 as a kind of love taken to the kind of brotherhood that there is in armed struggle. When you distill the plot to a less dramatic, more mundane degree, 1017 is a well-executed classic love story. This is why I like the movie: it doesn’t try too hard to fulfill the pretenses and wear the masks of “indy film.”
I just had to ask Zig how much it took to make the film, considering the beauty of the scenery and the awesome performances of the actors. Here’s the best part: the movie probably only cost the daily catering budget of a mainstream Filipino film during a one-day shoot. It just goes to show us that movies don’t have to have the kind of star quality and special effects we expect of them, as long as they have a good, solid story.
The downside to 1017 is pretty much the same as the downsides expected of any other indy film: technical issues. The dubbing and lighting and effects were not what they were cut out to be, and I’m sure there were cringes and sighs of disappointment in the editing room, knowing that a film as good as 1017 is limited by a very tight budget. What I would expect is for a kind soul to finance the remastering of 1017, and give this movie its rightful place in a mainstream theater or for affordable prices on VCD or DVD.
The bottom line is that 1017 is an excellent student film that deserves a spot in the mainstream, but is hampered by the limitations of money and technicalities. I don’t know when – and I don’t know how – Espejo Productions will market this movie, but I believe that when remastered, 1017 is worth more than every peso spent to view it.