If you've read all the blurbs of praise enumerated from the poster of Neal Tan's "Tarima", you would think a new masterpiece is upon us:
Former GSIS General Manager Cesar Sarino refers to it as "subtle and done in good taste"; UP Film Institute's Nonoy Lauzon rapturously declares "Major major gay movie of the year. Mapapamangha ang marami pang makakapanood" (How eloquent, right?); Hairdresser Henri Calayag pours out his emotions: "Words cannot express, but I simply love you, kapatid!" The nobility of the elementary school teacher is even on spotlight as a Charlie Vergara is made to comment: "I will give a 10 for Fanny's superb and unquestionable performance. The film is a modern-classic gay movie." Even the Chairman of a Local Water Utilities Administration Prospero Pichay is made to comment: "It's one of the best Filipino movies I've ever seen!" (Ever huh! Which begs the question, how many Tagalog films has he seen THIS YEAR alone? Let's not even stretch it by counting the number within his lifetime.) He further adds: "The acting and direction were superb," as though he actually knew what he was talking about."
So, I sauntered inside the Galleria cinema with my chips and soda, and settled at my seat ready to get blown away by this masterpiece called "Tarima".
The "tarima" that I know refers to a platform; a "stage", if you will, and for the most part, the narrative sits on a bedstead of stagey narrative.
Over delicately photographed canvas, the screen sparkles with superior camera work. This is what you would initially notice about the film, which is a far cry from the Best-Cinematography winning "The Leaving". Hmm, I thought this was turning out beautifully so far.
In the movie, Roselo (played by Fanny Serrano) is a hardworking, albeit long suffering gay man who grew up with her contemptible Lola Imang (Gloria Romero) whose penurious vile offer no rhyme nor reason. In one of her hissy fits, she hits young Roselo's right eye with her cane, resulting into blindness, signifying Roselo's deep seated scar of abuse reverberating throughout the film. But having no other family to speak of, Roselo's boundless patience runneth over. He remains devoted to his grandmother.
When his flamboyant friend Gringgo (Chokoleit) is sent to jail for having killed an enraged call boy, Roselo's days start to brighten as he befriends a reclusive inmate named Bryan (the smoldering Rocky Salumbides). Bryan soon turns to Roselo for attention - and for hopeful news about his wife and son who have but abandoned him. One visit after the next, Roselo would regale him with made-up stories about his family. It isn't long before we find Roselo's devotion reciprocated.
"Tarima's" exposition is hobbled by an absence of a cohesive script. The actors are made to spout improvisational lines, rendering the formative stages messy and the lines redundant. Let's take for example Gloria Romero's "witch-lola", in her many acid-laced scenes with every character (Gina Alajar, Fanny Serrano, Rustica Carpio, Chocoleit), she would repeat the words, "walang hiya", "demonyo", "ungas", so many times, the minute you see her on screen, you would know exactly what she would utter! Her venom is repetitive, and you don't quite understand why she turned out that way. To my mind, a character who can't justify the reason of her being is an actor not worth an acting award, as suggested by Lorna Tolentino - unless your criteria for superlative performance is the loudness of her histrionic fits. Romero succeeds with a two-dimensional character worthy of a comic book, not a good movie.
The narrative relies on bursts of ideas, making the story largely unfocused. Why then would there be a campy 5-minute gay beauty contests-cum-vaudevillan show inside the penitentiary? And if to drive our point further, such crowd-pleasing, albeit misplaced scene had to occur twice!
Rocky Salumbides, like we've mentioned before, is objectified as this silent, tall, dark and handsome presence who (did we say) smolders at every scene. Unfortunately, when he finally breaks his silence, all hints of fantasy break into pieces. He is Lauren Novero zombified. We see snaps of his butt, but that doesn't make us ignore the obvious - that he badly needs a great acting coach - fast!
Now let me delve into Fanny Serrano who took Roselo into his heart and soul. There's no denying Serrano's commitment to his character, but when he latches into "kawawa-naman-ako" overtime, it gets cumbersome. There is just so much patience we have for such Cinderella moment that when he finally fights back with a lengthy "Dahil mahal ko kayo!", it felt like he was posturing for some Star Awards moment! He just might win the trophy too because we know the caliber of a Star Awards trophy really (read: popularity contest among people who do not watch Tagalog movies. LOL)
There are several cameos here: Gina Alajar in a belligerently thankless role; Ana Capri as Bryan's bigamous wife; Dan Alvaro as the preso's "mayor" (and Gringgo's cuddler); Director Neal Tan has the uncanny capacity to hire the services of named stars. Unfortunately, he isn't blessed with a brilliant directing acumen and, except for "Ataul For Hire", each of his film works leave much to be desired: "Pasang Krus", "Tiltil", "Barang" (one of the most ridiculous horror films I've ever seen). Lest we forget, he was also a proud exponent of the late 90's exploitation flicks: "Siya'y Nagdadalaga", "Maldita", "Pilya", "Marital Rape", "Tag-Init", "Check-Inn", "Puri", "Kalabit" - the enviable list goes on!
I had high hopes after "Ataul: For Rent" but it became clear it was nothing but a fluke. At least the other Tan (Joven) redeemed himself recently with a searing "Magdamag".
When Bryan finally invites Roselo to share intimacy during the prison's conjugal time, I froze with horror. I knew somehow I needed an anti-emetic. Where's a doctor when you need one?