(clockwise from left) Yul Servo, Fritz Chavez, Emilio Garcia, Director Senedy Que
There's no nudity, and a "penetration" consummates only towards the end, but Dose is a decidedly sexual journey. It's the story of a boy's coming of age, yet the genius of the movie is that it acknowledges the boy's sexuality as something to be anticipated and inevitable, a thing of the future, but also a tactile presence, already happening.
Edy (Fritz Chavez) likes to watch movies and imitate his favorite actresses. Snippets of screen gems from the 80's -- most of them from great works of camp like Temptation Island and Waikiki -- are interspersed, and it's a wonderful device. What we're made to feel is not merely nostalgia, but more urgently, the hidden allure and danger of Edy's moment-to-moment discoveries. It's an occuring force within him, whether or not there's an explanation for it.
It's the same natural tendency at work when he finds somebody's old dolls and begins to play with them, and also, especially, during an ever-evolving friendship with the house gardener Danny (Yul Servo). Under the steady hand of Writer-Director Senedy Que, the scenes between the boy and the older man are lovely and tender, but also increasingly tense. He frames his shots to suggest sex -- a carefully gripped garden hose here, two bodies on a pendulum swing there, Servo's half-naked body, so near yet so far, in ultra-short denims that expose the underwear bulges -- and it's done with as much wry humor as malicious suspense. What Que has constructed, brilliantly, is the period in a gay boy's life when he doesn't quite know if he should hold back or dive forward, because the world ahead is too unknown but also too mighty to ignore. Servo plays Danny smashingly. Almost innocent in the embrace of his own charisma, but also somewhat calculating, Danny is light and dark, a devil that's also the only guardian angel around. Symbolically, he's the forbidden fruit, a glimpse of both heaven and hell. If some audiences find the movie an uncomfortable viewing, it's because Que has allowed the mixed emotions to curdle all at the same time, resulting in an original blend of calm, almost deadpan, sexy fury. And, for a controversially themed drama, it's surprisingly free of moralistic judgment. I found it touching, funny, sad, and exhilarating. This is a gay coming of age that's deeper, braver, edgier than Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossing of Maximo Oliveros) or Ang Lihim Ni Antonio (Antonio's Secret).
Que, a multi-awarded writer making his directorial debut, bills Dose "a personal film", and whatever the factual details behind the story, it does have the power of a traumatic reminiscence. Every character is touched with a graceful humanity, including the aunt who wishes to cast away Edy's gay demons, played beautifully by Irma Adlawan, and Emilio Garcia as the older Edy, a filmmaker who makes a movie about when he was twelve and finds catharsis. The film also makes room for the boy's loneliness and familial alienation. The images are burnished like a disintegrating home video, long lost and rewatched. Dose is a memory of a present turning into the future -- a near-perfect encapsulation of the precise instance when there was no turning back.