Thursday, October 4, 2012

Confessions of a Filipino Film Virgin: "The Man in the Lighthouse" (2007)



Having lived in Asia for half a dozen years when I was an Air Force brat, I now try to watch cinema from the areas I lived in or visited. "The Man in the Lighthouse" is my first Filipino film, but probably not one I will be recommending to Mom and Dad to relive our trip to the Philippines back in the early 1980's.

Mateo (Harry Laurel) is a lighthouse caretaker dating the beautiful teacher Suzette (Jennifer Lee). The small town they are in is trying to get tourism to increase beyond religious festivals. Mateo has no family, just an absentee father who will be returning to town from Dubai after a fifteen year absence. Jerome (Justin de Leon) is an ad copywriter vacationing from Manila, and stumbles across Mateo and Suzette having sex. He, er, tops off his tank as well, but the viewer isn't sure who he was listening to more until further into the film.

The town has a gay man dressed in drag (Monti Parungao), who pays local teenage boys for sexual favors. He is abused by one of these boys, and talks to Mateo about the negatives of being gay in the Philippines. Bookending these plotlines, as Mateo and Jerome become closer, is the oddest aspect of the film- Mateo is seen talking to the elderly cemetery caretaker Tisho (Crispin Pineda) about the "lighthouse fairy."

According to local legend, the lighthouse fairy (a hot chick in see-through negligee) shows herself to only certain men she desires. That man gives himself to the fairy, and never marries. Mateo's burgeoning relationship with Jerome mirrors Tisho's story of his life with best friend Fidel, and Mateo must discover just exactly who he is inside.

Shot on video by co-writer Joselito Altarejos, "The Man in the Lighthouse" is definitely different. The entire fairy subplot, while kind of explained in the end of the film, is still a bizarre piece of storytelling. The central plot, the relationship between Mateo and Jerome, moves in fits and starts, but I was disappointed that Perida is dropped altogether, as is Suzette until the final moments of the film. This makes Mateo look more cruel than anything, something I don't think the film makers wanted. Also, like "Brokeback Mountain," Jerome and Mateo begin making physical advances toward each other while extremely drunk, or under the influence of boiled trumpet lilies (yeah, I don't know about that, either) making the viewer wonder how a relationship is going to be built on an inebriated one night stand.

The music is over the top, as are some of the performances, but Altarejos does a nice job with just a few locations and small cast. Laurel makes a handsome leading man, but his acting when he arrives in Manila turns leaden. The sex scenes here are surprisingly explicit, both straight and gay, stopping just short of hardcore. The subtitles are sometimes off, or incorrect, but listening to the Tagalog language, I also picked up many English words, as well as Spanish.

"The Man in the Lighthouse (Ang Lalake sa Parola)" is an interesting, flawed film. Filipino film is like nothing I have seen before (I liken it to Nollywood or Bollywood, but with sex), so I may give a couple of more films from the country a chance...and the few street scenes of Manila are just as I remember... (* * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Ang Lalake Sa Parola