Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Manong Konstru - Exploitative Masterpiece of the Alternate World

Construction workers. We have these preconceived images of burly, muscle-bound, sweat-drenched men with chests that jut out to South America and biceps bigger than my waist line.
In Crisaldo Pablo’sManong Konstru”, there’s none of that on show. What’s worse, the supposed titular characters aren’t even “manongs”, and like a sarcastic glib, the film isn’t even set around a construction site, but a hardware store! There is no gray demarcation between the two. The difference between these two is crystal clear - the former builds and "constructs", the latter sells supplies. Kuha mo, Madam?
This highlights the director-producer’s myopic vision. Crisaldo Pablo has this annoying habit of fixating on stuff and on words, and he sticks by them come hell or high water. In his “Chub Chaser” (2009) for example, it follows Chubi, an overweight gay guy (Joseff Young) who’s desperate to hook up with anyone interested, but no one was taking the bait. In fact, his advances were embarrassingly rebuffed even by the most hideous-looking characters we’ve seen in cinemaland. In short, no one was chasing the chubby. Why the title then? We’re in the same logic-challenged realm in “Manong Konstru” – which somehow underlines the fact that its writer-director is discombobulated with his terminologies. I wouldn’t say it straddles plain “stupidity”, but the adjective wouldn’t be inappropriate.

The story ambiguously follows Joash (Joshua Santiago) who’s coming to terms, albeit awkwardly, with a bundle of concerns: the loss of his mother (she drowned in the floods) and his emerging sexuality. He can’t play basketball and is thus taunted by his peers. Even his father is not as cordial to the possibilities, “Huwag ka lang munang kumembot at ‘di ko pa kaya.” Even his best friend Sieg (Nikko dela Cruz) is conflicted about their association. Moreover, Joash is harboring a crush on Rusty (John Paul Gonzales), a laborer who works for Burog Hardware which his father runs with Draconian fist.
The story’s point of view is a confused mishmash vacillating among the hardware store’s oppressed workers (supposedly the titular “Manong Konstru” folks), Joash and Sieg’s friendship and a bewildering narrative strain of a gay man who bribes these laborers with gifts (“alak at tatlong de lata” – hahaha) in exchange of sexual favors.
Though Joash eventually gets in Rusty’s good graces (the latter would bathe with the infatuated teener inches away from him), the conclusion would permutate into a narrative strain that detours from conventions of believability. In Crisaldo Pablo’s world, every guy is a victim of his loins. When Joash visits Rusty at his shanty, he is greeted by a guy who’s masturbating, and even nonchalantly asks him, “Ngayon ka lang nakakita ng taong nagbabate? Halika tulungan mo ako.” (Haven't you seen anyone jerk off before? Come help.) It’s really an alternate world of homoerotic fantasy – the kind that oversteps boundaries of reality, badly staged with 3rd rate film making acumen and 4th rate production values.

Joash is conflicted.

There could have been wistful sweetness in the relationship between Joash and Sieg, but this is gravely under explored and superficially treated. How else could the best friends eventually end up playing with each other’s weiners when there was absolutely no hint of attraction from the start. You have to reference this improbability from Joash’s serious attraction with Rusty who seems to accommodate his mindful attention (Joash brings him snacks while he's shoveling away). In real stories, people delve into their action with adequate motivations. Even consummation of sexual urges ensues from rational motivations. But then rationality is never part of a Queeriosity flick. The point is to get a penis into the frame, who cares about reason; who cares about a circumspect narrative?

Which takes us back to the contentious title – “Manong Konstru”! While viewing this in a dingy cinema, I overheard a parlorista commenting on these supposed construction workers: “Ay, mga dugyot!” My point exactly! These wanna-be actors may have a niche in someone else’s sexual fetish, the way some dimwits get turned on by animals, human corpses or geriatrics. But these guys are far from our preconceived notion of a “builder”, a “construction worker”. These are twinky guys with “maninipis na kargada”. Flick them away with your pointing finger and they just might self destruct.
You may see muscular definitions – the rectus abdominis and their tendinous intersections making up the so-called “abs”; the internal oblique muscles draping down the waist; the serratus anterior muscles sliding up the armpit. But all these glorious masculine definitions are too far removed from physical exertion; they're really a product of youth or malnutrition. In fact, Francis Sienes, a Cris Pablo regular, even said, “Sa suweldong tinatanggap namin, kulang talaga ng pambili ng pagkain.” (With what we're making, we don't have enough to buy food.) Thus they had to peddle their “shortcomings” for the fellating requirements of those darn hungry parloristas. There are no “manongs” nor construction workers in “Manong Konstru”. They are mere figments in someone's confused imagination
What we do have is a godawful movie.

Joash visits Rusty and he gets red-carpet hospitality... a front seat to his bathing show.

Requisite peekaboos make the end-all and be-all of a Crisaldo Pablo amateur opus, not coherent storylines.

In this fantasy world, guys bathe together and let it all hang out in wild abandon.

The "burly" laborers: Manongs anyone?

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