Sunday, March 9, 2008



At nearly two and a half hours, Selda devotes a lot of time to "imagery" and "lyricism" that may trick many people into thinking it's a classy film. What it really is is a movie that masks the ugliness of its homophobia. Selda has the bitter taste of an anti-gay film.

It's not readily apparent in its first half. We're supposed to root for an incarcerated man, Rommel (Sid Lucero), mainly because he doesn't deserve to be in jail (his crime was accidental), but also because he's constantly threatened by gay rape -- first by the warden (Michael De Mesa), then more pressingly by the prison bully (Allan Paule). To make matters scarier, he's heterosexual, in love with a woman outside (Ara Mina). Apart from this, we know nothing about the man, and his character disappointingly doesn't deepen the rest of the way. What drives the drama is not character psychology, for sure, but the suspense of looming abuse from external villains.

What's offensive is the disparity of what the movie chooses to show and what it chooses not to. When events turn violent, Selda is detailed and unforgiving. The rape scene in the woods is a feat of orchestrated sadism. We're also treated to misery porn -- aesthetic videography of tough prison life. Essentially, writer-directors Ellen Ramos and Paolo Villaluna employ great effort to victimize our hero. But when it comes to depicting the substantial element of the story -- the bond that develops between two inmates; Brokeback Mountain behind bars -- Selda becomes subliminal to the point of avoidance. We barely glimpse the intimacy between two men in the dark, and the movie cuts too early to tell us what exactly happened. Selda belabors on terrifying us with the negatives of homosexuality (or man-to-man sexuality, if you will), but scrimps on making us understand the minds of the men as human beings, thereby failing to redeem them. Is it any wonder the rest of the plotpoints are contrived and confounding? Selda disrespects its gay subject through its discriminative style and philosophy.

The second half is more of the same abhorrent filmmaking, and structurally identical too, although set in the expanse of a farm, years later. Rommel, now a simple family man, is visited by the man with whom he once had an intimate moment, Esteban (Emilio Garcia), and again, the tension that ensues is so underdramatized, it's frustrating, but there sure are a lot of shots of the beautiful green grass. Again, it culminates in an explosion of blood and tears, and to drive the nail in the coffin, it was all the gay man's fault. Or gay men. Or the gay monsters that lurk inside the otherwise straight men. Damn, those homosexuals can sure destroy our lives.


Related Links:
MTRCB changes X-rating to R-18
Selda Wins Five Awards at Gawad Tanglaw


Vince said...

Great review. It really made me rethink how I perceive the film. For the record, I thought that it was a great film and maybe would become a classic, but the gay angle is overhyped and the artsy cinematography made the film excruciatingly long.

paolo villaluna said...

Thank you for taking the time to review our second film Selda :) Ellen and I make it a point to thank the blog reviewers of our films regardless if they like it or not : we believe that an important role of cinema is to open a discourse- it's a healthy sign of critical thinking among our movie going public.

We highly appreciate your review: it is intelligent and concise :)

Something though in your review is quite bothersome. It is the impression that the film ‘masks the ugliness of its homophobia’ and is anti-gay. Given your interpretation of the codes in the film and specially seen through the context that you established, your review comes out as very valid. There is however a flaw: you've built your whole review around the impression that the main topic of the film is homosexuality and the relationship between the two men. It is not. And to see it that way is to see it through a very narrow lens.

The film, through its characters, does NOT vilify homosexuality or Rommel's sexuality. The film vilifies Rommel's lack of ability to make a decision. The tragedy in the end is not because Rommel is gay or that he and Esteban are having an affair: the tragedy stems from Rommel's inability to accept his desires or confusion thereof. Our social dictates are very monolithic: you have the Church and a very patriarchal society. How gay men react to these social dictates becomes a personal decision: that's why in the last frame of the film Rommel is once again in a jail, albeit a personal closet: will he be free or not? We don't know. The film is ambiguous and invites individual interpretations. BUT THE FILM HAS NOT MADE JUDGEMENTS ON ANY SEXUALITY, GAY OR STRAIGHT. Underscored as a layer in the film is a message that says coming out is an individual choice and not a community decision (The film's title alone is a metaphor for closet). As we all know, choices have corresponding consequences and Rommel's problem is that he can't make a choice. And that led to tragic consequences. That's the thread of the film: sexuality was simply a conflict here and NOT the story nor the theme of the film. In fact in our interviews, Ellen and I always maintain that the film is neither a gay film nor gay themed: the film does not espouse, glorify or vilify any particular sexual preference. Its layers are meant to make you think and raise questions: we ended ambiguously because we don’t want to make judgments.

It is also beyond me why the film affected you so much so that your use of the words ‘abhorrent’ and ‘offensive’ are already in the context of malice. Also a bit suspicious is the fact that when I first checked your review there was a comment from a certain Vince who despite reservations actually liked the film, but then it was removed. Also, your original grade for the film was ‘D’ then a day later it was ‘F’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind opinionated reviews (god knows we’ve had our share.) But I do mind malicious ones. Ones that declare the film as homophobic and guising it up as a ‘classy film.’ Now, that wasn’t a review: that was a declaration. You are more offended by a film that makes you think than some of the gay films and direct to videos currently cropping up in the market? Films obviously espousing homosexuality as a lifestyle, films that are done with voyeuristic intentions, films with gratuitous content obviously meant to cash in the pink peso? Don’t you think these kind of films actually strengthen the negative sex-hungry stereotypes that gay men suffer from? If those are the films you prefer, a gay activist you are not. Despite your claims of being a gay critic, you equate homosexuality to a lifestyle, when it is an identity. I think you’ve misread the film, reading the surface layers as subtext and not the other way around.

I am reacting with much passion because your review has a tone of malice. I myself am very open with my fluid sexuality having fallen in love with both men and women. My first short film, PALUGID was in fact an exploration of gay spaces and why they are marginalized and my advocacy for gay issues is quite known. So you must understand the need to clarify why SELDA is not homophobic or anti-gay.

Having said that, Ellen and I will categorically say that the film has no intention to portray homosexuality in a negative light :)

Well met (despite your anonymity) and more power! Hope to meet you one of these days and hopefully in a less malevolent environment :)

Paolo Villaluna

Anonymous said...

wow this guy was caught with his pants should read his review on direct-to-video homoexploitation crap to see his veiled intentions

thebaklareview said...

thanks for your response, paolo.

i understand your defense of the film. in fact, i've considered the same points before i sat down to write my review.

however, i did see rommel's sexuality to be a big part of the film, if not its main subject. it's good to hear, coming from you, that the theme of selda is our personal prisons, and in the lead character's case, he's trapped by perceptions of his own sexual identity. it's easy to see this and that is exactly what i saw. forgive me if it's the only aspect of his character i understand because i couldn't see the other personal prisons you mean. maybe you can clarify. what, other than sexual perceptions?

i don't think you can downplay the rommel-esteban relationship either. it's what's supposed to test his character and moves the plot forward. without it, you have no story. in short, i really did see it as a film about male sexuality/homosexuality. i'm sure a lot of us in the theater did too.

if you say the film was about character, then i feel correct in my analysis that the film fails because it fails to effectively describe, define, study character. i've already stated this in my review. the lack of character makes your film more of a horror story than a human drama.

i know it's a harsh statement to call a work anti-gay or homophobic. i was very careful. however, i am a gay man and i really was offended. this is a personal review, like any, and my use of the words "abhorent" and "offensive" are no different from other people's use of "thought-provoking" or "inspiring" or "beautiful". i'm sure you've received similar praises for your work. i also made it my duty to publish my review a full week after selda's (second) theatrical run. i didn't want to dissuade my readers from seeing it, however few they may be. i believe in a fair chance for movies, especially independent movies. discussion can come later. my reviews are always honest, never malicious.

a point of correction: my initial grade was F, promoted to D. (not the other way around.) i put extra points for being interesting.

now about those "gratuitous" films/videos with "voyeuristic intentions" that are "obviously meant to cash in on the pink peso". i wonder which titles you mean? hehe. i have a pretty good idea, of course.

i think these films/videos deserve the same attention as any other. i may be one of the very few online critics out there who even bother. i guess you make the distinction with filmic intention. others are in it for art (or its forms); others for, what, more prurient interests? i think this is a dangerous topic, and it will be cumbersome to defend which films go into which category. in my blog, as i'm sure it's clear, such distinctions of intention barely matter. i review works for what they are, for the particular pleasures they possess. i do enjoy unpretentious erotic works. (however, a scan of my reviews will reveal my reactions to genre are not automatic.) there has been an elitist standard in film appreciation for far too long. cinema (or the production of moving images) is larger than most people's perceptions of what is good art. we're used to reviews that talk about "cinematography" or "editing", yet when we talk about male bodies, it's less important? is cinema too much of an intellectual pursuit and not a sensual or emotive one? there are a myriad of elements that make the movie-watching experience significant. also, i'm thankful for the continuing gay presence in film and video, whatever homosexual lifestyle they depict. like cinema, the homosexual's experience is larger than most people's perceptions of it.

Anonymous said...

Rule No. 1

You do not defend your film against negative criticism.



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johnnypanic said...

thank you for your review. though i'm not sure it's the intention of the filmmakers to spurn man-to-man love, i still think they failed mostly in giving us a convincing portrait of a complex relationship, which these two characters have. i've seen the movie last night and am currently trying to come up with an entry on my blog.

keep up the reviews! my movie-buff friend and i enjoy reading your thoughts on everything cinema-bakla. :)

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