Thursday, March 17, 2011

Students Project - Disjointed Vision and Homophobia

We follow a quartet of Manila teenagers - Louie, Benj, Rich and Mackoy - through their lazy class-skipping hours, spent in pool halls and street corners, taunting and harassing gay men ("mang-aagaw ng lakas"), punctuated with boozy hours and the occasional sexual jaunts - and, invariably, their boredom. But this graduating bunch is being assigned a video thesis that covers homosexuality for their Psychology class.

Before long, we see them take the road to Laguna interviewing what should be their idea of a cross-section of the third sex which includes a foul-mouthed, cantankerous female impersonator; two prepubescent "dalaginding"; a successful openly-gay businessman; a maton-looking homosexual, and a beautiful transexual. Why they would travel two hours and sleep in a tent just to find these subjects is a mystery to me. I am sure there are thousands of willing interviewees in Metro Manila. But these admitted homophobes soon discover unnerving thoughts among themselves - and these discoveries have been captured on cam by their leader Louie (William Redmond). This spawns conflict that soon escalates into violence. The video cam is fought after and a chase scene follows. They go their separate ways. But why is the police after them?

It would seem that director Deo J. Fajardo, Jr. isn't sure where to take his (and Digna Fabian's) story. To cinch a sure thing, he takes us in so many direction, we suddenly felt like this was an interactive medium where a hundred ideas get insinuated : part-documentary piece on homosexuality; a crime offender (a rapist) is caught on cam sodomizing a hooker who earlier gave them "tulo"; a gay man gets kidnapped - and so on. All these take us to a dizzying spectacle of scenes that are badly executed.

The lines are curiously careless. Define "gay", they ask an interviewee. He replies: "Gay is a social being who is creative and responsible". He might as well describe National Artist wanna-be Carlo Caparas, right? Or Sharon Cuneta, for that matter. When the guys came to pick up the hooker Scarlett (played by Julia Lopez), Richard pays her a compliment: "Ang ganda mo. Para kang isang magandang dilag!" Huh? Maybe Rich thought Scarlett was a transexual? At one of the class scenes, their professor introduces, "This is Psychology. Do you know what the world needs now?" Love, sweet, love, maybe? LOL. As a testament to the production's meager budget, this Psychology class is held - hold your breath! - under the canopy of a mango tree. No desks, or chairs or blackboards! Doon po sa manggahan. Bow!

When their professor assigns the quartet their topic on homosexuality, the former asks, "Ba't kayo galit sa mga bakla?" They reply, "'Di kami galit. We hate gays!" And I was suddenly curious what "hate" exactly meant to them?


The performers are lookers: William Redmond plays gang leader Louie. (Redmond is Fil-Am.) In fact, columnist Dolly Anne Carvajal - in 2008 - wrote about (star and assistant director) Redmond, allegedly a major player in the indie scene. She also mentioned that Redmond will "soon" be seen in a flick called "Schools Project". And that was 3 years ago! This would make this film 3 years old!


And in that span, it has already lost one of the cast members - Bench Peralta, playing the good looking Mackoy (the youngest in the bunch)! This explains why the film is, in part, dedicated to Peralta's memory who died 1 year after he shot this film (2009) - and I do wonder how. His Facebook account is a memorial fan site boasting of 2,000+ members. What a waste of a young life.

Deo Fajardo Jr. (the director) sure has an eye for "artistas". After all, he discovered one of showbiz's most beguiling icons, Robin Padilla. But Fajardo's directorial intuition was never a source of envy. He comes from an old school of tired Pinoy action movies. "Student Project" (sic) is a mishmash of drama, a protracted documentary, pseudo-Pink Film (solely captured in their tent scenes), and action. There isn't much flesh on display except for Redmond's backside and Julia Lopez's melon mammary doing harmless peekaboos in the sodomy scene.

As to the rest of the cast: Jerome Gernale who plays Rich is particularly good looking; he even looks comfortable on-screen, and makes a good (and sometimes bored) interviewer, better than Fil-am William Redmond who starts most of his questions (as an interviewer) with the redundant, "My next question is..." when he could have gone straight to what he wanted to ask. Martino Martin plays Waray boy Benny who does the requisite male-on-male scene with Gernale (just a lot of hand action).


The film is mostly pieced together like disjointed jigsaw puzzle pieces, eternally presupposing that one of its many side threads will conflagrate into a rich narrative.

Though the whole flick is a representative of mediocrity, the most interesting portion is seen in the segment where a beautiful transexual named Rhian was being interviewed. "She" worked in Tokyo, met a rich boyfriend who financed her transexual operation (worth P1.5 million; a Manila operation with a Dr. Jorge will cost P500,000). Rhian has since separated from her Japanese boyfriend and moved on, and she even won a beauty title in Pattaya (Thailand), and you wouldn't be surprised. Rhian was a sight to behold. She dictated the interview with confidence and candor. She knew what to say. In fact, she told her little stories with much gusto that her protracted 20-minute footage provided the film's most captivating segment. An interview is rightfully as good as its subject!

In memory of Bench Peralta who plays the young Mackoy.

Bench Peralta: Gone too soon, but becomes an actor posthumously.

Julia Lopez

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