Title: Baka Bukas
Director: Samantha Lee
Writer: Samantha Lee
Cast: Jasmine Curtis-Smith (Alex), Louise de los Reyes (Jess)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Year of release: 2016 .
Brief rambling: I watched this a few days after I watched 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (read my review!) because my Film 100 class required me to write a review for a Cinema One Originals film, and I wanted to have options. Eventually, I decided to review 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten partly because its setting takes place in Pampanga, which is where I’m from, and partly because its plot is significantly more complex than that of Baka Bukas. By the way, I have so much love for the UP Film Institute for screening these films at a very student-friendly price!
When I first watched the trailer, I was so hyped, fam! I was extremely excited to watch Baka Bukas because it promised a narrative most Filipinos still consider as taboo. The sad reality is that to this date, the Philippines remains to be largely homophobic because of its deeply rooted fixation with Catholicism. A lot of LGBT+ members are seen as odd spectacles, which is reflected through the manner in which they are typically represented in mainstream cinema (i.e. every movie Vice Ganda is in – I’m not even sorry). In addition to this, until now, many still equate being a lesbian to a woman trying to be masculine. But I digress.
While I did really like the overall film, I also found it to be slightly underwhelming, and a handful of its elements bothered me. But I’ll elaborate on those parts later on.
In my opinion, the success of Baka Bukas lies in, what I think are, its two greatest assets: the unparalleled visual aesthetics of its cinematography and Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s phenomenal acting ability in projecting Alex’s character into the big screen. Aside from these two, I’d say that the movie’s solid soundtrack adds to its overall appeal.
You know those ridiculously beautiful Instagram photos you try to convince yourself that you aren’t envious of? Basically, every shot in the film is like all those pretty Instagram filters coming to life. I am not even kidding. The camera angles, the fantastically vivid spectrum of colors, the freaking fairy lights – everything looks so unbelievably gorgeous and inhumanly magical I almost sobbed out of envy. My life seems so dull and monochromatic in comparison to all the ✨ aesthetics ✨, ✨ #ahrt ✨ and ✨ feed goals ✨ (yes, all the twinkle emojis are essential in emphasizing and validating my point) I found in the film.
Much like how gorgeous the footage is, Jasmine looks equally and consistently stunning as Alex. That girl has no bad angle at all! Plus, she exudes an air of inherent sophistication. However, the actress has quickly proven herself to be more than a pretty face with her strong performance. Her portrayal of Alex’s character is generally authentic and memorable, but it is during the quieter scenes and moments of stillness when Curtis-Smith’s acting prowess shined the brightest as she only had her facial expression and body language to rely on.
As much as I liked Alex (and the actress behind her character), I did not like her best friend and love interest, Jess. Sorry, but no. Her personality is pretty off-putting and too exaggerated for my taste. It does not really help that the actress playing Jess (Louise de los Reyes) occasionally over-performs her role, which adds an unnecessary cherry on top of all the “over the top”. There’s just something about Jess that rubbed off on me the wrong way.
But enough about whom I liked and whom I didn’t. Let’s talk about the crux of the matter: the narrative and the handling of LGBT+ representation in this film.
Honestly, despite how much I was enjoying the film as I watched it, I felt a slight unease that I couldn’t really fathom. At face value, Baka Bukas is a whimsically adorable film that can easily tug your heart strings. It was only when I got back to my dorm and contemplated which film to review for class (re: Baka Bukas vs. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten) that I was able to identify the problems I had with the former.
Story-wise, Baka Bukas is not particularly substantial nor is the plot significantly intricate. In fact, the storyline is stretched pretty thinly, but even so, it fails to thoroughly explore the conflicts it introduces to the audience. Moreover, the plot does not have as much depth as I would have preferred, and the execution of said plot fails to fully develop certain elements that are essential to the narrative, such as the character relationships. I think the faulty execution lies in the film’s attempt to be a little bit of everything all at once, which ultimately fails as no aspect is presented profoundly, causing things to fall very flat. The same sentiment is highlighted in one of my fellow blogger’s critique of Baka Bukas (Andrea’s review) (Other remarkable reviews: Jethro Ian’s, doublesidedscotchtape’s).
Fair warning: The succeeding portion of this review will contain a number of mild spoilers. Proceed with caution, should you choose to continue reading.
However, what made me feel uneasy is not the lacking material in the plot. On the contrary, this is what bothered me: the gay relationship between Julo and David is portrayed more explicitly than the lesbian relationship between Alex and Jess. What do I mean? Specifically, there are scenes wherein Julo and David openly share kisses whereas Alex and Jess only get one kiss – and here’s the thing – the kiss happens in the dark and it is just a quick smack. There is also a scene wherein Alex makes out with a guy while she is drunk, and even that has proper lighting.
I’m not entirely sure what the intention behind this move is. I mean: is the kiss between Alex and Jess conservative and chaste for the aesthetic appeal (as they have the moment underneath the eerily lovely Manila skyline)? Or is it out of the fear that a more vividly intimate scene would make the audience feel far too uncomfortable? Is it out of the belief that Filipinos are relatively more open to gay relationships rather than two females being intimate?
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I wasn’t a fan of how the film approached the idea of lesbian relationships. In fact, I don’t think I have any authority on LGBT+ representation and portrayal because the knowledge that I have is admittedly limited. I can’t really point out what’s right and what’s wrong, but what I can say is that I am not wholly satisfied with how Alex and Jess’ relationship was built, portrayed and eventually played out.
Nevertheless, I appreciated how Baka Bukas greatly deviates from the “tomboy” stereotype that’s automatically slapped on every lesbian. In this regard, I believe the film successfully broke a couple of barriers. Admittedly, the film industry has a very long way to go when it comes to properly handling LGBT+ representation, but Baka Bukas might just be a step towards the right direction, despite its flaws.
[ * Note: This film is a recipient of the Cinema One Originals 2016 Best Actress (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), Best Sound (Andrew Milallos), and Audience Choice awards. ]