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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

entry arrow5:16 PM | Beauty Queen of Our Hearts

Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful (2016) [trailer here], which had won the Audience Award as well as the Best Actor citation for its star Paolo Ballesteros at the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival before joining the magnificent slate of eight for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, is a fractured thing of beauty — sometimes tender and sometimes raucous.

It embraces two things that it demands of us: peals of laughter and buckets of tears, and both in equal measure as we become witness to the story of a life that seeks out the beautiful in a world that’s stark full of ugliness. But my God I make it sound so dreary. It’s not. It’s a glorious film filled with many wacky moments, but it has to be said that the humor becomes even more precious given the darkness it transcends.

This is a film after all that does not make light of such things as parental abuse, rape, child abandonment, infidelity, and death — themes that understandably merited the film its R-13 rating — but it is testament to the film’s courage that it plows through these things with a certainty that at the end of it all, Mr. Ballesteros’ Trisha Echevarria and her life becomes a cause for celebration.

It doesn’t come easy, this telling of a very unique life. Rody Vera’s sure-footed screenplay chooses to tell it in fractured form, reminding us a little bit of that eclectic style Alejandro González Iñárritu once used for Babel, and one can make the argument that the form rescues the film from the maudlin, which every dramedy is always in danger of falling into, tantalising us with scenes whose gravity comes in later revelations, each one building towards a whole that soon becomes a satisfactory finish.

As it is, our heroine — a transgendered woman with beauty queen aspirations — is dead from the start, a victim of an aneurysm that comes so soon after being crowned winner of a nationally televised beauty contest. Her best friends — a bevy of earnestly made-up queens led by Christian Bables as Barbs, in a star-turn that is nothing short of a miracle — proceed to provide her a wake that is of her wishing: seven nights in a funeral parlor, where every night she is made up to look like a different celebrity — Iza Calzado, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce… Somebody soon takes a selfie with Trisha’s beautiful corpse, and this becomes viral, and soon the wake becomes a sensation, the unwitting mecca for all gay and trans men everywhere.

Intertwined with this thread involving her wake is Trisha’s life story, a complex assemblage of everything from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the details of which I cannot bring myself to hint at, even with suitable spoiler warnings, because they add bit by bit to the gravity of her story, finally making her death (and the life she led before that) a singular triumph for one who dared all odds and magnificently struggled with all sorts of definitions — son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, mother, beauty queen — to truly and fully become herself in the end. It is also a perfectly rendered tale of friendship, of the families we make when our own has discarded us for being different.

But take note. You will cry. You will feel horrified. You will laugh till your sides ache. You will get uncanny insights to surviving the stupendous Q&As of “beau-cons,” you will know how to make fake boobs, you will gain expertise in making perfect eyebrows, and you will know the subtle differences in handling infidelity a la Maricel Soriano or Jaclyn Jose.

Mr. Ballesteros does a fine job off handling the full range of emotional marks his character demands, and the rest of the cast — particular Mr. Bables — is game enough to handle the intricacies of the story with a sensibility that’s to be commended (although Joel Torre’s father comes off too much of a monster).

I’m sure this was not an easy film to write or make, but Mr. Lana, Mr. Vera, and everyone else have indeed proved that something like this can be done in the name of Philippine cinema. For so many years, particularly in the MMFF, and most especially in the unfortunate films of Vice Ganda, the gay or trans persona has always been a figure to laugh at; these films’ caricatures of the ridiculous of course made money. But here is a film that is an anti-thesis to that, and I am glad to know this is the film that made it this time around.

The film is currently screening at Cinema 1 at Robinsons Movieworld Dumaguete.


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