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Christian Bables ‘turned’ his body into a female’s in Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful, and it was a convincing transformation. I mean he’s not like Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire wrapped conservatively in ladies’ gowns or schoolmarms’ dresses. In the movie, his body was exposed many times. He wore short shorts. He flaunted his shapely, womanly legs, his biceps well-toned yet non-muscular. He’s a doll in skimpy outfits. When he walked wearing high heels, his posterior profile boasted of a woman’s waist, his behind like a rocking pear on a bough, and that straight imaginary line on the soil punctured by his lady shoes seemed to have surfaced when he passed by.
He was a knockout. His sharp-pointed nose recreated in our minds how Pauleen Luna or Aubrey Miles must have inhaled and relished the smell of bouquets of fragrant flowers. It’s one of those rare miracle of a performance for such a role where the exterior gelled with the interior. If he were really acting here, then he must forgive us if we believed he’s not, if we thought he’s gay.
We had for the longest time been supplied in Philippine popular TV and cinema with those loud, extreme, and caricaturish, videoke songmaster-types from the LGBT folks who provide zany, sometimes self-deprecating humor. Mr. Bables and Mr. Paolo Ballesteros’s turns as trans women Barbs and Trisha Echevarria came as welcome surprises because of the right blend of comic and realism in their rendering of their roles. With a good script and good actors’ delivery, the movie projected a naturalness (You’d hear hard-ons and penis mentioned casually in Filipino). Somehow these modified the viewer’s reactions.
Jokes were intricately knitted with the story and themes. That made us accept the movie’s presentation of humor with some degree of reverence. You felt compelled to hold back laughter compared to the way you react to a good, decent Vice Ganda joke or gag. Many times, you felt like it’s definitely more appropriate to smile than roll on the cinema hallway’s dusty floor carpet laughing. You’re careful that you might be laughing at someone you know, a relative, an officemate, an FB friend. And you don’t want your enjoyment to be misconstrued by another as offensive.
During the dramatic moments, the musical score went almost unnoticed. A few scenes were layered with instrumental pieces I’m sure. When it’s non-intrusive, it’s tasteful. It’s as if somewhere inside a glass room, viewing the rushes or the takes themselves, an overseer-conductor like Gerard Salonga was present hushing his strings section, advising them to play it really quietly and pianissimo, some music reserved to the subconscious, subtle and non-flashy. It must have added in stirring you subliminally to make you cry buckets of tears near the end.
As the title suggests, the main character, Trisha, had died and she wanted to be made up like a different famous woman each night for seven days before she’s put to her final rest. In between those days, the movie pieced how she came to be, her struggles with her father who disdained her for her sexuality, her relationships with friends and lovers, with her sister, with her adopted daughter. It narrated her colorful ’employment’ as an untiring and hardworking gay beauty contestant.
Her dedication made her come up with tricks to stand out in those contests. One thing she did was explore the wonders of makeup, copy the faces of popular celebrities. The work didn’t prove convincing at first. Her Regine Velasquez had a burnt Rudolph the reindeer’s nose, or looked like someone from the musical Cats. Then she competed in a pageant as Britney Spears, but her modified appearance looked like a cross between Britney and Jessica Rabbit, with skin tone as colorfully crisp as pork lechon. Barbs’ makeup works on Trisha during the wake were the ones that gave justice to a beautiful life lived, close to masterful, nearly capturing the essence of each chosen celebrity, especially her version of Beyonce. Trisha’s corpse was like the Queen of the Damned for one night.
Louder than the crackling of the chips munched by the couple at the upper row seats in the cinema where I watched, sharper than the biting truths about violence, rape and discrimination this movie comments on, the movie at its heart is a celebration of self, effortlessly achieved by iteration, and not by shoving into your senses those big loaded words classed under values or virtues. You wonder why the terminal phrase of the answer of Trisha in a beaucon Q & A “…nobody, nobody, but me” reverberates? It’s partially because you also remember the beat and claps from the hit single “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls which had insidiously made itself part of your cherished memories. Funny and serious. There’s no special need for you to adopt a persona anymore. Unless you’re like me desperate to do a Bob Dylan act. It shouldn’t generally be a neccessity for you to have a facial surgery unless you wanted to hide because you’re Kerwin or a shamed Leila or you badly needed a botox. You should be prideful for who you are. Pamper and affirm your unique spirit. Our society in general lags behind and a lot are still suprised by all the liberating thoughts and opinions about sexuality and morality being disseminated by its advocates. Yet, on another side, we have institutions and persons in power who are still comandeering to keep things as old, ‘normal’, conservative, ‘straight’, and restrictive as before, still fired up to reform in sanatoriums and barracks those who agreed to be stamped as ‘weaklings’ and ‘sick.’ For these institutions and self-righteous people, the Earth is like a humongous ball with lots of hollow spaces inside, ‘appropriately’ managed by moralists and dictators, with rooms for balloons and transparent bottles, shaped, sized, and customized for each ‘fighter-queer’ person to inhabit, to eventually suffocate her and to cut the spread of her ‘infected’ bloodline.