by: Edgar O. Cruz | STIR Editor In Chief
20 Oct 2009 | 10:02 AM
Ace is the daring newbie who plays the in-demand sex worker Badong, one of the live sex show performers called the Tupada Boys at the Inner Sanctum gay bar. His attention-grabbing portion, however, does not steal from the raw depiction of marginalized Pinoys living on the edge, like Tupada Boy Juan (Ray An Dulay) alias Erwin, Jr., and Jason according to the sex worker’s code of assuming several identities.
“Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan” is Altarejos’ first foray into the real time mode of filmmaking. After the surrealism of “Ang Lalake Sa Parola,” the shock of “Ang Lihim ni Antonio,” the peek into discreet gay life in “Kambyo” and “Little Boy, Big Boy,” Altarejos turns full circle to stir the styles of past films in another interpretation of the secret life of bisexuals in Armando “Bing” Lao’s real time as interpreted in the script of Lex Bonife and Peping Salonga and produced by Altarejos’ own BEYONDtheBOX film production company.
“Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan” explores two hours in the life of Juan in the big city, who is forced to go back to his hometown Masbate. Juan takes us into his “hole-in-the-wall” shelter in the backstreets of high-rises to meet marginalized Pinoys breaking the survival code with character types like unwed mother Mercy (Angeli Bayani, 2008 Cinemanila’s Asian Best Actress) and his endo lover Noel (Nico Antonio of “Minsan Pa” and “Kubrador” cast, who returns to the big screen after joining Star Magic as a VOIZboys crew).
The film asks whether man’s destiny is presented or self-made. Juan decides to go back to the province to be with his sick mother and not return as he is living a wasted life. He wants to leave so he breaks his decision to Noel. But a raid mars his last show when police take his money and rubbers earned from selling his body so he will not be arrested. As he cannot return to his mother, he is left with the option to return to Noel.
Contrasts play an important part in this film. The day part explores the discreet gay life of Juan and Noel that ends in a no-fuss teary farewell scene. The night part exposes what discreet gays working as sex workers do. Daytime photography is bathed in glaring sun, while nighttime is candlelit as if to hide its dark secrets. The city’s rotting; its survivors may live under miserable circumstances but where they work, there’s a chandelier and a grand staircase — glam witnesses of their glum lives.
Ray An and Nico interpret their characters in contrasting style.
Ray An is almost mechanical, under-acting, while Nico is emotional, playing it to hilt for maximum effect in the separation scene. This is a very touching interaction between men who love one another and are not compelled to flaunt it except to themselves. The masculine Nico appears in half-naked and kisses Ray An on the lips. This is clearly his best performance in a full-length feature to date, short but driven to the point. Many may be turned off by Ray An’s performance, but it is true to character.
Altarejos attacks the scenes as dispassionately as possible. There are scenes which he could have exploited, but he cuts as soon as he establishes the scene’s purpose — the mark of a mature helmer. This is perhaps the reason the MTRCB gave it an R-18 classification despite the masturbation, blow job, frontal nudity and strong language. He proves in this movie he’s an indie filmmaker in the real sense of the term. He pushes the director work to the extreme like what German poet Rainier Maria Rilke said is necessary to come up with a master work.
Suggesting fate is the work of a whimsical if random higher being in his game with humans as his objects, “Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan” poses the idea that male-to-male sex workers are discreet gays. In local gay films, they are usually depicted as straight guys who feed on gay fantasies, but as Altarejos boldly suggests otherwise in this film. This fresh interpretation is that they are homosexuals having a late awakening, recognition, and/or acceptance. They like what they are doing. If not, why do they stick to the job? This is a reinforcement of the film’s original idea of humans as playthings.
But there’s something that’s uniform in this movie. Mercedes picks up the rice thrown off her hands by a rushing body; Noel picks up the mixed cookies from a can that spilled when inspected by a raider. He had intended it as pasalubong. It seems this is the code of feeding to the marginalized. It’s not even hand-to-mouth existence, but what you may call as floor-to-mouth subsistence. This is where Altarejos excels — having a good understanding of material and a fearless attitude to tell it. “Ang Lalake Sa Parola” was my favorite Altarejos movie; “Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan” changed this!