Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino: ‘Open’ and ‘The Panti Sisters’ reviewed
While the honors have been bestowed upon the winners of the recently concluded Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, and as Eduardo Roy Jr.’s “Lola Igna” earned Best Picture, it is still interesting to take note of how the rest of the offerings fared in terms of storytelling and in affecting their intended audiences.
We look at the crowd favorite “The Panti Sisters” which bagged the Audience Choice award and Best Actor for Martin del Rosario; and the steamy “Open” which has Arci Muñoz doing daring, sensual scenes. Though neither failed to bag the top prize from the festival, audience interest was high due to their provocative themes. Spoiler alert for those who have not yet seen both films.
‘The Panti Sisters’
Actors Paolo Ballesteros, Martin del Rosario and Christian Bables are larger than life as gay siblings Gabriel, Daniel and Samuel in Jun Lana and Perci Intalan’s comedy “The Panti Sisters”.
The story sees the three summoned by their rich father Don Emilio Panti (John Arcilla) to his mansion, years after Gabriel and Daniel were banished from home for being gay. Samuel, on the other hand, is Don Emilio’s illegitimate child and grew up in Tondo with his poor mother Vilma (Rosanna Roces), all the while longing for the presence of his father.
Don Emilio is dying of cancer and has promised to give an inheritance of P100 million to the first son able to give him a grandchild. What follows is a series of outrageous and absurd schemes from the siblings in their desperation to impregnate a woman and receive the fortune – from Daniel attempting to hit on women at a bar, to Gabriel and Samuel turning to their female friends Kat (Roxanne Barcelo) and Chiqui (Via Antonio) for connivance.
On the surface, the film amuses with its humor, the traded barbs and banter between the siblings is heightened by the undeniable chemistry of the actors. But it seems nothing is sadder than laughter, and flashbacks from the siblings’ childhood show that there are old wounds to tear open. In one scene, a young Gabriel admitting to his parents that he is gay is met with fury from Don Emilio. “Gawa ng demoyo ang bakla (The Demon created gay),” he says, before threatening to send Gabriel to the Philippine Military Academy to make a man out of him. In another, Don Emilio catches a young Daniel putting lipstick on his stuffed teddy bear Pepe. In fear of his father’s anger, Gabriel steps in and takes the blame and punishment, saying he was the one who took his mother Nora’s (Carmi Martin) makeup.
This was the kind of father Don Emilio was, a man so tightfisted with his love that he ruled his home imperiously and refused to be called “papa.” Don Emilio’s incapacity to accept and support his gay sons are experiences that no doubt run parallel to real life, far beyond the blinkers of film. Don Emilio’s coldness is only shattered when, in a sharp vicissitude in the film, one of his sons die after being shot by a group of thugs. In a defining moment that seems almost too late, a remorseful Don Emilio asks for forgiveness from his remaining children, only to be told by Gabriel that they have already forgiven him and that he needs to forgive himself. Weakened by the cancer that has just about engulfed him, Don Emilio finally asks Gabriel and Samuel if they could call him “papa” instead.
It would be impossible to divorce the LGBTQ+ experience from family; screenwriter Intalan himself reflected that family is foremost in many LGBTQ individuals. And behind its comedic devices, at times painfully conventional to a fault, “The Panti Sisters” succeeds in making this message simple and resonant to its audience: that we all want to be loved, to be wanted.
“Kulang na kulang ba ako?”
This was what an anguished Rome (Arci Muñoz) asked her boyfriend Ethan (JC Santos) in an intense scene near the end of the film that thus determined the fate of their 14-year-long relationship.
Rewinding back to the beginning of Andoy Ranay’s “Open”, it was made clear early on just what kind of dynamics Rome and Ethan have in their relationship. A scene of the two inside a bakeshop while on the way to have lunch with Ethan’s family showed how Rome easily gives in to appease her beloved, down to the quotidian act of choosing what kind of cake to buy. Rome wanted to get a strawberry cake for his family, but Ethan could not decide if he wanted matcha or salted caramel more. As the two go back and forth on what to buy, a seemingly exasperated Ethan tells Rome to choose instead as he walks out to go back to the car. Rome ends up buying the two cake flavors that Ethan wanted.
This would repeat itself later on in the film after Ethan discovers that their friends Archie (Vance Larena) and Monique (Ivana Alawi), who have just gotten engaged to each other, are in an open relationship. Citing the lack of excitement in their pretty much non-existent sex life, Ethan suggests to Rome the idea of going “open” to make sex with each other thrilling again. Rome adamantly rejects the idea, but when Ethan tells her that perhaps they should break up instead, only then does she acquiesce reluctantly.
The two agree that they can stop being open anytime and should only sleep with strangers; Ethan, however, violates this rule and uses the set-up as a license to sleep with Erika (Ina Raymundo), his older co-worker who he has been lusting after. As Rome struggles with her own guilt and shame in seeing other people, Ethan indulges in steamy trysts with Erika, all the while keeping it a secret from Rome.
It is not hard to predict just how Ethan and Rome’s open relationship would turn out, which was lopsided and not entirely built out of trust to begin with. But in the end, the tables appear to have been turned. An empty Ethan, in his confusion and futile search to fill a bottomless void, decides to return to Rome. But Rome has become more confident and successful separately from Ethan.
The climax of the film is reached during an intense confrontation between Rome and Ethan, after she discovers he has slept with Erika multiple times. In the scene, Rome tries her best to temper herself, but fails as she explodes at Ethan for his treachery. “Kulang na kulang ba ako?” she asks before breaking down in tears.
Here is a woman whose spirit has been flayed, stripped and undone, a woman who no longer has any emotional reserves left in her. The film is careful in its execution to show and not preach, and it does its best by doing away with unnecessary verbalization and by focusing on the shared silences between Rome and Ethan throughout. While predictable, the film veers away from peddling gospel truths; open relationships work for some, it may not for others, but what it should not be used as, perhaps, is a panacea for a crumbling relationship that is unsalvageable to begin with.
In the last scene, Rome and Ethan share a tearful goodbye for the last time in their apartment. As she sets out to leave, she pauses on her way down the stairs and looks back. It was in this moment that the audience in the theater does the talking. The viewers are conscious and they know better. “Go, bilis (quick)!” they urged her. “Umalis ka na (Leave now)!”
And Rome shares in this knowledge. She wipes her tears and walks away, stepping into the new beginning that is waiting before her. JB
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