Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Joselito Altarejos' Pink Halo Halo - Simple Lives, Broken Hearts

Gone are the phalluses and the brimming libido that usually drive director Joselito Altarejos' narratives. In fact, for the most part, the title, "Pink Halo Halo" is a bit misleading, but we will get into that later! This doesn't deny the fact - Altarejos' astute eye for haunting images is on spotlight, in the absence of naked male bodies.

As a response to a request, we are finally posting our thoughts on Altarejos' least popular, but ultimately rewarding flick.

In A Capsule

Natoy (newcomer Paolo Constantino) is the typical 9 year old who lives his innocent childhood in the backroads of scenic Masbate, playing war games with wooden guns, and enjoying his occasional visits to savor the delectable halo halo of his El Bimbo-dancing ninang (Dexter Doria). His father (Allen Dizon) is a soldier who endures a short-lived vacation when his command post recalls him. One day, Natoy witnesses on television a wounded soldier who turns out to be his father. What becomes of this young boy?

The story behind "Pink Halo Halo" is one of luminous clarity and simplicity, it's easy to associate oneself with the rawness of Altarejos' storytelling. Natoy's world revolves around a small community of gentle souls - a hard-working mother (Angeli Bayani), an affectionate uncle (Mark Fabillar), a ninang who occasionally treats him with her sumptuous pink halo halo, and a slumbering town made curtly aware of the strife between the military forces and the NPA's in a nearby sitio.

Altarejos adroitly delineates life in a small town and he takes us, rather languorously, around Natoy's chaste universe. In fact, he masterfully weaves a laidback - no, make it sluggish! - rural pastiche of folkways that sometimes come off incongruous with the rest of his straightforward storytelling!

The film could have benefited from a judicious editing of some scenes that unnecessarily stretch out too long; an awkwardly realized serenading as a father bids goodbye, and the dialogs could have enjoyed a more interactive demeanor. But on the whole, we found its simplicity ultimately affecting! Even the alternate use of Tigaonon dialect and the occasional Tagalog were beautifully seamless!

The ensemble was natural and relaxed from Allen Dizon to Angeli Bayani and Mark Fabillar, but the whole narrative would have fallen on a less believable Natoy - the resplendent Paolo Constantino who carries this coming-of-age story with sedate charm! He photographs well and doesn't resort to I'm-a-cute-tyke shtick prosaic among overworked local child actors, thus it's easy to empathize with him as Natoy. When he cries his innocent heart after seeing his wounded father of TV, there wasn't much to do but cry with him!

Why "Pink Halo Halo"? Does it imply that Natoy would eventually grow up gay and swishy? In one scene, we see Natoy eavesdropping while his mother is selling lipstick to a woman. We then find Natoy pretending that he's putting on lipstick. Sure, some quarters would find that scene representative of Natoy's future sexual preference, but this is debatable. Haven't you seen kids who, in moments of mischief would suddenly mimic the action of adults? I have! If Natoy were "soft", we wouldn't see him enjoy "baril barilan", would we? We'd find him doing a Maximo Oliveros. That he enjoys his ninang's pink halo halo doesn't appropriately contribute to the wobbly premise. Who doesn't love their crushed iced with sago, ube, kaong, saba, langka, nata de coco, leche flan - on a simmering summer's day? I am just not convinced of his impending homosexuality!

The secret of coming-of-age tales rests on the faithful documentation on the innocence of youth, narratively circumnavigating around the intricacies of growing up; something that newcomers could fittingly convey. Check out most of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's works which mostly employ children - non-professional actors - as his main character!

As a story teller, Director Altarejos needs to expound on his ideas without losing focus on the main story. And I was grateful he wasn't tempted on showing libidinous males in heat - for a change!

Moreover, I admire the "clean" camera work (by Pao Pangan). In one scene showing an outrigger boat as it sails towards the shore, the camera stays still. There were several hues of blue enveloping the bangka; a tiny island from a distance, the clouds hovering low like surreal brush strokes. It was a moment of sublime beauty! Real cinema is indeed more visual than verbose.

Household chores before he reports back to his post.

Simple childhood joys, like kite flying!

Saying goodbye in a blatantly foreboding scene.

Small town play.


- said...

Thanks. I appreciate your thoughts on my films.

Cathy Pena said...

You're welcome, -.