The Philippines used to make a lot of sexy movies set in remote rural landscapes, which provided the ideal backdrop for scantily clad women on the verge of losing their innocence. We can tell much has changed in moviegoing tastes because in the new film Binyag, the object of our gaze is a scantily clad, often naked man (Ran Domingo), and it feels like a gay reinvention of something we miss, a throwback to the decades when the sexy movie was neither urban nor social realist, but a nature fantasia.
The first one-third of the movie -- which is a picturesque passage of this quiet man frolicking in the waves and rocky formations, ignoring his female admirer (Ynez Veneracion), but intrigued by an older gay man (Simon Ibarra) -- made me think I was watching something special. There's a generosity in director Mico Jacinto's compositions, not only in the keen technical attention that promotes the glossy capabilities of the P2 camera and shames many digital movies that try to look expensive, but even more for what he chooses to show and how much. There is no shortage in coverage of sun-glazed images, which match the exploration of Ran Domingo's body as if it were the most magnificent of terrains. The first-time actor, who was called Randolph Dungo as a model, possesses a lithe dark beauty that, refreshingly, doesn't seem to have been manicured or gymmed to death, but seems to have sprung directly from the goodness of the sea. We see a lot of him in king-size detail -- including his armpits with sparse growth, his buttocks, and his crotch, whether bulging in various tight undies or dangling limply in full frontal glory. There's also one ticklish montage that's like a showcase of the many creative ways to conceal simulated blowjobs.
Sadly, the film isn't as generous in substance. When Leo is smitten by a talent agent (Paolo Rivero) and recruited to audition for the movies, the story moves to the city and Binyag slowly reveals a cynical core. SPOILERS ALERT!!! Characters will spontaenously talk to the camera to proclaim selfish motivations. A movie director, a movie producer, and the talent caster all revel at their exploitation of actors. A boy so painfully shy before losing his virgnity (Kenji Garcia) displays an arrogant side after. Everyone shows their darker nature, except for our hero, who sluggishly moves through his prostitution with a single emotion: weariness. I felt weary watching it myself. Despite our national fascination with prostitutes, it's amazing how so many of our movies are afraid to envigorate their prostitute characters with complex flaws and reactions -- you know, things that will make them more truthful and more interesting. Binyag turns out to be the same old story of the good-hearted slut who must return to the province.
The ending baffled me, but not in a good way. There is certainly a touch of magic realism in the way a character suddenly disappears without explanation and in another character's insistence that a love prophecy will come true. But the mysteries point to possible answers that just may be too ugly. Is it implied that Leo "became" gay because of what was done to him (there in the movie's title, no less) and that in the end, he chooses to be with a woman? How is this possibility supposed to be exciting? It's a good thing the movie wasn't clear about it. At least we can get distracted by the fine sensuality before realizing it's all swimming in an empty vacuum.