Writer/Director/Producer Crisaldo Vicente Pablo's most indelible films (Duda, Bath House), and even some of his lesser ones (Bilog, Moreno), depict urbania as cynical, harsh, and sometimes bitter, then pits this environment against a person's romantic idealism. "What is the plight of the gay guy who wants to love in today's seemingly loveless world?" He always seems to be asking. His films are really about values. The incisive, thoroughly modern social dimension of his body of work is unjustly underpraised.
In his latest, Quicktrip, Metro Manila is a city where casual sex among strangers is easily started and just as easily terminated -- a world of quick sex trips. In one brilliant sequence, he details the step-by-step rituals of gay men inside a movie theater: the glances, the advances, the constant horizontal to's-and-fro's, the shift of loyalties, and the emotional ups and downs. Almost wordless, it's staged like a comic ballet.
At the heart of this unromantic milieu is Cris (Topher Barreto), Cris Pablo's most romantic surrogate yet. (His lead characters are always named after himself.) Cris is a minimum wage waiter and family breadwinner who is dumped by his call center agent boyfriend for essentially being unable to keep up with his lifestyle. As the movie follows Cris in one day, in which he desperately tries to win back his boyfriend, stumbles into the quicktrip scene for temporary relief, and meets Andro (Andro Morgan) who joins him in a quest for a private make-out spot a la Trick, Quicktrip depicts Cris as a walking bleeding optimist, an uncorrupted angel, the last modern romantic. Barreto, who makes his acting debut, is a find. Watching him, I dare you not to believe his inner goodness. When he disappears into the sunrise (not sunset), I want to cheer for his quiet resilience.
There is a dose of cruel reality to the turn of events -- something that might be expected from Pablo -- but I won't reveal it here. I will, however, mention the spicy humor in scenes where less masculine, less attractive gay men make flamboyant speeches about longing and heartache. In casual, funny ways, Quicktrip comments on the hierarchies of gay hook-ups: the poor versus the moneyed, the hottie versus the undesirable, the honest versus the pretentious, and the conflict in labels: the bisexual, the bakla, the tripper. There is also a strong progressiveness in its representation of the homosexual poor. Too often, our movies have pegged homosexuals as people with money to spend on impoverished straight men. There is always that rigid gender/economic divide. Quicktrip shatters the cliche by focusing on an underrepresented point-of-view. Cris is gay and poor. He's going out of his way not because he can afford it (he can't), or he's horny (he holds out on the quickie to get to know his partner better), but because of an emotional need. He can't even see what an asshole his boyfriend is. The movie is supposedly based on a true story.
The scenes are breezy, observant, and direct, some of the best in Pablo's oeuvre, or in any of the gay movies this year, with brisk editing and the wistfulness of Isha's minimalist music. There's not much actual sex or nudity, but the director's original cut (one you can't see in commercial theaters) includes an onscreen cumshot by Andro Morgan. Seemingly simple, with a soulful core, Quicktrip has magic.