Friday, June 22, 2012

Cleo Paglinawan's Mga Lalake Sa Balsa - Of Underwear Holes & Rafters Who Never Sail

In a remote riverside town, able-bodied rafters (“magbabalsa”) peddle their flesh to tourists to augment their meager income. Times are hard, and customers are a dwindling breed. This is real life for Arnold (Jeremy Ian). After all, his mother was a hooker. While he desperately mopes around, roommate Tirso (Rocco Mateo) patiently listens to his constant gripes. Arnold is also unaware that Tirso harbors recondite affection for him.

If Tirso could have his way, he would sell his hut (“kubo”) so Arnold and he could start anew in the big city. Meanwhile, Lea (Barbara Chavez) – a married girl whose husband up and went because of his her penchant for canoodling with the town’s male population – has become Arnold’s constant benefactor and girl friend. During Tirso and Lea’s conscupiscent rendezvous, Tirso is left to his own devise wanking over his friend’s soiled briefs.

Meanwhile, aggressive and enterprising Jessie (Jerome Pineda) doesn’t think twice about turning tricks – even for a measly P100 with his limp wristed neighbor (Ike Sadiasa). Brimming with machismo, he offers his wares to any willing customer. But one person is particularly immune to his charms – the eternally lecherous Lea who is so infatuated with his hustling lover Arnold. “Ba’t di mo patulan si Jessie?” Arnold tells Lea but she wouldn’t hear of it.  

One day, tragedy strikes when JC (Mico Madrid – aka Mickho Madrid) forces himself on Jessie’s errr… uncharted territory. Despite Jessie’s colorful sexual past, taking it from his backside was beyond his limit. He suddenly feels violated, debased… “binaboy”, he laments. This event unravels into a tragic turn that has grave repercussions in the lives of his friends.

Jeremy Ian is Arnold

Director Cleo Paglinawan (“S.R.O.”, “Itlog na Pula”) returns with Kenneth Montero’s trite and confused story. In fact, “Mga Lalake sa Balsa” is a second banana to Monti Parungao’s decidedly middling “Sagwan”. To be fair, “Sagwan” feels like a masterpiece beside this atrocity. Paglinawan seems to be experimenting on how to pull down the iota of artistic standard she possesses. And she has succeeded in doing just that. She has done assistant directorial duties (under another mediocre director, Joven Tan) in countless B-movies that it’s baffling why she never learned the medium (“Bahay ni Lola 2”, ”Paupahan”, “Vhagetz”, “Project X”, “Eskandalo”, ”Binyag”, “Booking”, “Tutok”, “Dalaw”, “Bigasan”, “Dampi”, “Indie Boys”, etc.) Clearly, the blind can’t lead another into the light. Bad teachers can never mold better students.  


To some people, experience is obviously not the best teacher. How else do you explain the conundrum that’s Cleofe Paglinawan? If you saw her “Itlog na Pula” shown last April (wait for our review in this blog), you would agree with me when I say that these two films feel so similar, you could randomly insert scenes from either films and you wouldn’t notice the difference! Telling a simple story is a major dilemma for Paglinawan and her storytelling posse which, then, begs the question – why stay in a business that you so miserably botch every time? She could be more productive planting say, turnips, or patola and mustasa. Or even kadyos! My dad loves kadyos – so Paglinawan will make one soul happy if she switches careers! If she has green thumbs, she could even get herself declared “Farmer of the Year” in Bayombong, Catanduanes or Tawi Tawi. Ayaw n'ya nun? It's a relatively more promising career!

Jerome Pineda exudes good looks, confidence and natural charisma.


“Mga Lalake sa Balsa” is told in chronology, but it might as well be otherwise. Now here are just a few of the befuddling loopholes in its very elementary narrative. I was transported to the twilight zone when, from out of the blue, Jerome Pineda’s character Jessie suddenly bursts into “Baboy ka JC!” – as he stands with wet white briefs on riverine waters. Where did his palpable indignation come from? Isn’t Pineda’s character named Jessie? Was there another Jessie? Turns out, the town voyeur – played by Mico Madrid – is homonymously named JC! Brilliant, right? Such flashes of inspiration. Jessie and JC! Weeh. Is there a dearth of names I wasn’t aware of? Or does this highlight the limited ideation of the scriptwriter? Mind you, naming characters has got to be the hardest preoccupation for a writer, debah?

Here's a possibility. There could only be one Jessie. Mico Madrid's character could originally be left unnamed, but some time, during the filming, the actors were fed the name of Jessie, thus this confusion! But adhering to this theory is highlighting the fact that the film makers are nothing but bunch of sniveling morons with brains the size of a mosquito. How can you not remember the name of characters you yourselves created? Thinking this much gives you toothache ba? :)

Mico's character hides behind rocks and bushes as he salivates on Jeremy Ian, Rocco Mateo and Jerome Pineda who enjoy several bath scenes (river and bathroom). These barrio boys are so hygienic, don’t you think? Moreover, when they bathe at the batis, they all assume supine position - they lie on their back with face and crotch upward! Is this how we are supposed to enjoy the river? This must be the new fad for summer! How fashionable!

Now why was JC “baboy”? Does he mimic porcine snort? Does he eat slop or kangkong? Not really. Towards the film’s conclusion, the dastardly deed is shown. JC sodomizes the unwilling Jessie during a transaction gone awry. (Jessie expects oral service, but JC overpowers the obviously mightier, taller, more muscular Jessie.) The film editor evidently misplaced the post-“rape” scenes of a grieving Jessie 30 minutes too early, and we’re not even talking about “flashbacks” since the narrative is, as said earlier, told in chronology. 

If the narrative thread is familiar, it is probably because (director) Darry dela Cruz is on board as Paglinawan’s assistant director. You see, in Dela Cruz’s films (“Bingwit”, “Daklot”, “Frontal”), his main characters always resort to prostitution, then someone always dies in the end. “Mga Lalake sa Balsa” is no different. In fact, two major characters die! How’s that for leveling up? J

Barbara Chavez as Lea, Mico Madrid (now Mickho Madrid) is the town voyeur JC


If you need a good laugh, look no further and take note of a couple of separate scenes involving Jeremy Ian and Jerome Pineda where, with cameras panning closely on their crotches, you notice big “holes” on their underwear! Holes! I swear I could see the rings of Venus and the moons of Jupiter. Or was that my imagination? What is this world coming to when a film production cannot even afford decent underwear for their actors? I was actually willing to loan my yaya to the production because she is excellent where needle work and sewing are concerned. In fact, I was ready to practice my crochet on those tattered undergarments, most especially Jerome’s. Ayayayayay! I whole heartedly volunteer! J


What’s funnier is how we never see these “rafters” row a balsa not once. The rafts shown were broken and, surely, rafts couldn’t buoy on rocks. This makes the title - “Mga Lalake Sa Balsa” - spurious. Rafters who never sail? Ang galeng, right Chris Tiu?

Robots populate this ouvre, but you can hardly blame the actors who are made to portray character sketches with no valid sense of intent, each one a fallacious caricature. It’s likewise hard to impart empathy on people who deliver lines as oddly as this lot.


But there’s a surprising find at the end of this nebulous adventure – newcomer Jerome Pineda! With his gorgeous masculine features, Pineda delivers lines earnestly and naturally as though he has done this several times in the past. Yet this is just his second film (we saw him earlier in Paglinawan’sItlog na Pula”). Sure, his lines are befuddling, and the situations are egregious, but Pineda exudes confidence and a star swagger. It doesn’t hurt that he is exceedingly easy on the eyes! Barbara Chavez looks particularly doped out. Poor girl! As for the rest, let’s just say that their parts haven’t been kind to them.

So why should I?

Rocco Mateo is Tirso. He's in love with his friend Arnold.

Mico Madrid smells the plant? Or his underarm? :)

Jerome Pineda: naughty smirk!

Jerome Pineda invites you to his shower. :)

Barbara Chavez looked dazed all throughout.


Please read our featured post on Cinema Bravo and why Web Criticism sometimes makes us nginig.


Mon said...

Hi, this is my first time in your blog and I enjoyed the reviews you've written.

Sadly, your blog is not user-friendly. I was searching for certain genres of films and all I can do is check each one post at a time, wishing I'll find the films.

You do not have a widget for CATEGORIES on your sidebar. I understand that BLOGGER.COM does not have a gadget for CATEGORIES like other blog platforms, but maybe you can use the gadget for LABELS.

Another important widget that your blog lacks is the SEARCH button. It would have been easier if I can just search for a certain keyword to find the topics that I am looking for.

PS I looked for the ads in your blog, and I can't see them. I suggest that while you are adding SEARCH bar and LABELS to your sidebar, you might as well add the googleads. :)

Cathy Pena said...

@ Mon:

Thanks for the suggestions. There is already a Search Bar at the upper left corner of the blog. Using a separate "search" widget makes this item redundant.

The labels make quite a huge (a behemoth, actually) list so that if I were to employ that widget placing all labelled items at the side corner of the blog, it will get me an extremely long single page.

I will consider placing "genres" in the succeeding posts, but putting individual genres for each film in the past will be major work since there are almost 500 entries here already.

Re: googles ad. I don't want ads. Why should I commercialize it? I have no intentions of making money out of this. If this isn't a user-friendly blog, it's too bad because I do not have the marketing savvy nor the techie intuition. But thanks for the suggestions. I will keep everything you said in mind. :)