Magnificent

Review by Vives Anunciacion

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros
Directed by Aureus Solito
Written and Produced by Michiko Yamamoto and Raymond Lee
Starring Nathan Lopez, JR Valentin, Soliman Cruz
ufo Pictures
Gawad Balanghai (Cinemalaya) Best Production Design
Special Jury Prize Best Picture
Special Citation for Performance

With a title like that, who can ignore it? Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, more than its intriguing title, is at its core a rare and powerful coming-of-age narrative unequalled in recent years.

Pre-teen Maximo Oliveros, or Maxi (unforgettably played by Nathan Lopez), gaily devotes his time to his family of small-time criminals. He mends their clothes, cooks their meals and cleans the small shanty like the young housewife without the husband. He doesn’t go to school, in his off time, he watches pirated movies in a tiny “rental” under the stairs.

The Oliveroses is a typical, tightly knit Pinoy family, except that they are all men. Maxi’s doting father, Paco (played by veteran theater actor Sol Cruz) is a trader of stolen cell phones. His brother Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) does the stealing, and Bogs (Ping Medina, son of actor Pen) is a jueteng booker. Pretty much everything in the neighborhood has the color of crime. That would change as soon as Victor arrives.

Victor (JR Valentin), the handsome young policeman, personifies the ideal side, maybe even the contradiction of, Maxi’s family and neighborhood. He develops a friendship with Maxi, a kind of positive influence or role model for the impressionable kids of the slums. Maxi develops for Victor feelings that are more than just friendship (as the title makes obvious), which the family understandably rejects. Maxi is learning the meaning of love and devotion the hard way.

From the writers of Magnifico and Anak, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a heartbreaking tale of first love and the bloodlines that bind the common family firmly. “Maxi” prevails as an honest representation of the Pinoy nucleus, whose primary motive is to stay together under any circumstance. This is as real as narrative fiction can get.

The entire Oliveros household is an inspiring sight of tenderness and loyalty. Acting is top-notch across the board, with Sol Cruz, Ping Medina and Nathan Lopez as Maxi are visions in nuanced acting. Their performances are simply magical, at the end of the day, the Oliveroses are no different from your own household, and yet they still carry that small edge away from normality.

This is no teeny-bopper story, nor is this a stereotyped drama of a gay son in a macho household. There are no hysterics, no clichéd romance. Only sincere feelings between a boy and his family and a new thing called love. Kudos to the clearly-defined characters of Yamamoto, the intelligent interpretation of all the actors and the skillful handling of director Aureus Solito. The slums of Sampaloc, Manila add texture and credence to the story (hence the award for production design).

This is a rare achievement even if done by veteran filmmakers, but more so because it is made by new and young filmmakers. Without a doubt, “Maxi” is by any measure the best Filipino film in at least five years, and stands as the true beacon for the resurgence Filipino motion pictures and the next golden age of independent filmmaking.

The organizers of Cinemalaya, namely the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Dream Broadcasting and Philippine MultiMedia Systems Inc., the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the UP Film Institute should all be commended for successfully staging a competition and festival which by now, based on the attendance of the general public and by the luminaries of Filipino film, have stirred the local motion picture industry, commercial and independent, to life.

Now on to making more great Pinoy films.

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