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December 01, 2005

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros
Aureus Solito - 2005

In today's news was mention of The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros. I had also noticed that this film made the cut for Sundance 2006 in the Dramatic Film category. There is no U.S. distributor for Maximo and I don't know if Sundance will change that, but it seems like the kind of film that Strand would possibly pick up. I happened to see this film totally by chance. My significant other and I decided to go out of town rather than sit through Hurricane Rita and another power shutdown. We decided to visit Toronto, more or less on impulse. Looking through Toronto's alternative weekly, my SO noticed the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival was taking place. The scope of this film festival is films and video work by indigenous people. If Maximo seems to fall somewhat outside of the declared parameters, the film was included as Solito has made short films dealing with Philippine indigenous culture.

The film can be viewed as a gay themed coming of age story. Prior to the screening I attended, Solito noted that he wanted to depict the realities of the poor in the Philippines. Shot digitally in Manila, the film represents part of the newer generation of Filipino films that more frequently are examinations of life and culture, rather than the horror and action films that were more frequently exported in the past. For most Anglo-American viewers, including myself, the cinema of the Philippines remains an unknown country.

The film follows Max, a twelve year old boy who is clearly both effeminate and quite secure about his sense of identity. He is the youngest son in a family of thieves, living with his father and two brothers. Max provides the "female" roll in the household chores - cooking, cleaning and food shopping. Max's father is the neighborhood "Godfather" for the neighborhood they live in, where the police look the other way. A new neighborhood policeman, the incorruptable Victor appears, announcing to all his plans to clean up the neighborhood. Victor, who has saved Max from being beaten on the streets, becomes the object of Max's affections. One could almost view this film as being a variation of the old Hollywood chestnut where the girl is caught in a the proverbial web of love and loyalty between a gangster and a cop.

Where the film succeeds is in the presentation of the humanity of its characters. While Max is sometimes teased by his brothers, there is the sense of family love, particularly from his father. Without editorializing, Solito depicts the daily life of slum living with its filth and corruption. The criminal activity of Max's family is seen as a mode of survival when there are no other viable options. One very funny scene is of Max and his other young friends raiding a costume shop and putting on a beauty pageant with lip sync singing and dancing. Underlying the humor is the contrast between the childrens' lives in the slums of Manila and their aspirations for media created glamour and beauty.

While Maximo is a modest film, especially by Hollywood standards, the interest in this film may hopefully help make Filipino films better known for more serious film viewers. As Solito has stated: "The recognition of this film has empowered and will inspire digital filmmakers from the Philippines, digital filmmaking has equalized the expressions of third world countries to first world countries. We are poor but not in spirit."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 1, 2005 11:28 AM


I am a filipino and an aspiring film director, and i have never lost hope in my country. someday, people will see better in my country's films..someday people will smile and watch our films. thank you very much for your wonderful article.

Posted by: erin at December 5, 2006 10:02 PM