If you’ve been reading my blogs, you would already be familiar with two names that frequently crop up here - supporting characters in my film-watching adventures: my friends Kyle and Iya. They frequently join me in my cinema adventures. Though we’d have fun night outs together – three of us, it is seldom that I get to take both of them with me in one movie. Iya and Kyle have been with me since high school, way through college. Kyle (who’s the cutest gay guy I’ve ever laid eyes on - and he's been approached by several to do commercials) would take me with him when there are gay films and those god-awful Pinoy indies being shown. Iya, my "sister" during shoe shopping haunts, joins me in Hollywood blockbusters and english films when she doesn’t have a date with her Topher. My mom (sometimes my dad, along with my brat of a brother – “God’s gift to girls” himself) would take me to mainstream Tagalog films. As you can see, I get to cover most of whatever is shown on commercial theaters. Thus makemeblush was born to document them!
But Adolfo Alix’s “Muli” succeeded the impossible. It drew Kyle and Iyaya and me to the cinema together, and I am almost thankful to Mr. Alix for this one-in-a-lifetime event! Or should I?
Jun Bernabe is an ex-seminarian who teaches in Baguio City. It’s 1968 and he inherits an “inn” from her mother. Aside from running the guesthouse, Jun belongs to a local communist group that follows stringent rules about their ideology, as well as their lifestyles (governing even their romantic involvements). Meanwhile, there is Errol Agabin (Cogie Domingo), a law student from Manila who occasionally heads to the city of pines whenever he’s in a bind, emotional or otherwise (his parents’ separation, his impending marriage, etc). He would check-in at Jun’s guesthouse, but nothing else goes on between them. Things change between them when Celest (the Communist Organization’s leader – and Jun’s erstwhile lover, played by Arnold Reyes) gets shot and dies, leaving Jun lonely. One night, while helping his drunken guest to his bed, Jun is unable to control himself – and steals a kiss from Errol!
The morning after, Errol feigns ignorance from the event that transpired the night before, and bids Jun goodbye. But we find Errol returning sometime thereafter to finally consummate their growing attraction. Errol eventually returns to Manila for his studies. It would take 3 years before he is able to come back. Unfortunately, he bears news of his impending marriage to his girlfriend Mina (Max Eigenmann). And Jun is left eternally anticipating Errol’s rare yearly visits (if he’s lucky, that is). He would stare at the distance, hopelessly pining for Errol’s kisses. He would write him letters, but never gathering enough courage to mail them. Along the way, he meets interested lovers with whom he couldn’t fully commit – his student Ayer (was that “Santuaryo’s” Ardie Bascara?) and Roland (Rocky Salumbides), a miner from Nueva Ecija. But Jun keeps his Aprils free for the elusive lawyer who visits yearly (every 2nd week of April, in fact). Will Jun ever find happiness more than their fleeting April rendezvous every year?
The narrative is set against the country’s shaky political goins-on (from Marcos’ Martial Law declaration to the rise of the Arroyo presidency) employing intermittent TV footages of the strife that our country has endured all through the years to remind us of the timeline. This actually gives the story a delicate edge as we are made witness to Jun’s personal and social upheavals (he gets suspended from his leftish group when they learned of his sexual alliances with Celest). The first third of the story is particularly arresting as mood and atmosphere are heightened by heavy fogging and mist-laden mountainsides. Unfortunately, as the story unravels further, we get the picture of an unbalanced relationship between Jun and Errol. The story gradually descends into Danielle Steel territory.
Consider this: They share a night of passion. Then Errol leaves, and never returns for 3 long years! If you were a smart cookie, wouldn't you consider that as a mere one-night-stand, instead of serious relationship? It’s not like Errol was Jun's romantic first time - or the epitome of naivety, for that matter. One night of wild shagging with no follow-through letters or phone calls for years should be an easy clue that it was just hormones on overdrive. How can you even pine for someone who loves you only once a year? If that's even love! Moments of tenderness and affection outside coitus were conveniently absent. Did I even hear Errol profess his love for Jun? Isn't it clear then that, where Errol is concerned, Jun is nothing but an afterthought of his occasional itch?
The movie's early publicity would have you believe that it is a sprawling romantic epic of an enduring love between two people. How deceptive! There is just too much undeserved romanticizing of a relationship that doesn’t really hold a lot of historical baggage together, except of course that the other guy enduringly waits for a chance to get shagged once a year. If that doesn't make him a joke, I dunno what would. Meanwhile, the other party gets on with his life, raises a family, takes his kids to Disneyland, and climbs the social ladder. The equation in “Muli” is rather too simplistic, but the numbers leading to its conclusion don’t quite add up!
Sid Lucero wanted to become an actor like Cogie Domingo and Baron Geisler before he started in the business.
At times, it feels like a Star Cinema production – but with gay people in it. It is such a gay world indeed. And didn't you notice - even Jun's Communist Party has half of its population closeted gays? The thought brings me a sense of frivolity. Masaya ang mundo!
Cogie Domingo, who was already an intuitive actor in “Deathrow” eons ago, withholds his emotions too well. He is unsatisfactorily too detached from the story, probably because his character is muted by his indecision. In “Muli”, Cogie is obviously out of his depth. Sid Lucero’s Jun Bernabe is bemused by his own self-inflicted tragedy. And Lucero magnificently plunges head on into an array of emotions that plays out naturally and sympathetically on screen. He is charming, affecting, believable and just astonishing, even in the scenes where he quietly cries.
Maxie Evangelista, who plays Kaloy (he works for Jun at the inn), turns in a revelatory performance. After years of mediocre and distracting presence in most of Alix’s films, Evangelista has finally hit the cinematic jackpot with a moving performance of the out-and-out “parlorista” who subscribes to the precept that if he wants a slice of happiness, he has to find it himself - even at the risk of rejection or injury.
Rocky Salumbides plays the role of Roland, Jun’s devoted lover, who’s willing to introduce him to his mother. He is unaware of Jun’s occasional tryst wit the “attorney”. Despite Salumbides’ international success as a model, we find it odd why he doesn’t register as impressively on screen as I expected him to. He works hard but he appears awkward and, for the most part, inadequate. But he’s a newbie so this shouldn’t discourage him. For the genitalia-weaned gay crowd, you won’t find penises here, although Domingo and Salumbides share a lot of backsides.
Angeli Bayani does well with her part, but not "excellent" the way some writers make it to be. I couldn't reconcile her character's pining for Jun and her desperation to get married to Niles (Marco Alcaraz). "When we're both old and single, let's marry each other," she offered Jun. Ano to, "Kung Ako Na Lang Sana Part 2" (that Sharon Cuneta-Aga Muhlach movie)?
There were a few other things that bothered me. The wig used for the Martial Law years were hilariously bad. The 3rd and last act of the film suddenly turned into mush, concluding into something so unsatisfactory artificial. Would you accept someone who has been taking you for granted – up until he has lost every one else, but you? How convenient, right? As Jun and Errol, now old and gray, dance to a painfully off-key rendition of “Dahil Sa Yo” (surprisingly sang by Cookie Chua), I was awash with bitter emotions of regret and wasted years! God forbid my life will ever be defined by a romance as ungratefully unsatisfactory as this one. Wag na lang!
My friends and I saw the film together based on the buzz surrounding this work. It would be unfair to call “Muli” bad. There are several other films this year deserving of the adjective. Unfortunately, I can’t call it a “good” one either, so let's settle with something more appropriate: "middling"! The story is less than adorable, and the pacing sort of drags. As romances go, the story leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. In fact, we came out of the cinema not with a profound sense of affection, but of cynicism. If that's how a romantic film affects its audience, then someone is in trouble.
Director Adolfo Alix used to be the exciting young film maker. He showed a lot of promise, but this year, he made one of the year’s worst: “D’Survivors” (Alix seemed too distracted with his beautiful actors, he actually forgot his audience). He also released “Romeo and Juliet” (with Victor Basa and Alessandra de Rossi), a failed experiment on alternative story telling (see: Hans Canosa’s “Conversations with Other Women” with Helena Bonham-Carter for reference).
Whatever happened to the promise?