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Puppy love with a Manila twist

A gay 12-year-old from a family of crooks falls for a policeman in the enticing 'Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros.'

September 29, 2006|Kevin Thomas | Special to The Times

"The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" is one of the finest Filipino films, shimmering with folkloric charm without softening its view of the harshness and injustice of a life of poverty. Sophisticated in its ease and spontaneity, it was directed with clarity and rigor by Auraeus Solito from Michiiko Yamamoto's acutely perceptive script.

There's so much color and vitality on Gulpit Street in the Sampaloc neighborhood of Manila, it's as inviting as Olvera Street. Such a picturesque setting belies the poverty and crime entrenched beneath its surface. The bustling Gulpit has modest shops with apartments above, and it is home to Maxi (Nathan Lopez), the happiest 12-year-old gay kid one is likely ever to meet.

The slender Maxi understands that he is gay and it doesn't bother him because it doesn't much bother anyone else in his neighborhood. He is blessed with a profoundly loving father, the burly widowed Paco (Soliman Cruz), and equally loving older brothers Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) and Bogs (Ping Medina). While hardly spacious, the family's apartment is sunny and comfortable, happily well-kept by Maxi, who also cooks for the family and does its mending.

There's a hitch to this idyll, however, for Paco and his older sons are petty crooks. After losing his wife, for whom he could not afford to provide proper medical care, Paco realizes bitterly that he cannot support his family as a factory worker, so he hawks stolen cellphones on the street. One evening as he is walking home, Maxi is mugged but quickly rescued by a brand-new cop on the beat, the handsome but hard-nosed Victor (JR Valentin). He takes a paternal interest in Maxi, who responds by falling in love, his first experience with those emotions. Well-meaning Victor really doesn't understand how to handle a gay kid's crush yet wants to be a positive influence. The film's enticing mood of carefree joy swiftly darkens and grows complex, building to a strong, satisfying conclusion.

The Philippines' submission for the 2006 foreign-language film Oscar, "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" is a unique coming-of-age film, for Maxi is such an intriguing mix of the streetwise and the innocent, self-aware yet emotionally vulnerable. Solito's ability to inspire such a daring, unself-conscious portrayal from Lopez is no less than astonishing.

The film's graceful, richly hued cinematography and its beguiling score contribute crucially toward the making of a distinctive and outstanding achievement.


'The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros'

MPAA rating: Unrated. Adult themes

A Unico Entertainment presentation. Director Auraeus Solito. Producer Raymond Lee. Cinematographer Nap Jamir. Editors Kanakan Balintagos, Clang Sison. Music Pepe Smith. In Tagalog, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. (323) 934-2944.

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