This film opens with the sight of beautiful petals floating serenely down a dirty Manila stream: beauty amidst squalor. But a squalor that smiles and does not offend: the homes are clean and spirits are strong.
It was filmed over thirteen days on a shoestring budget of $10,000; they used digital video rather than film, which made it easier to shoot on the street. The director said it was so easy to film as it was done in the neighbourhood in which he lives: he refers to it as his ode to his home. It is mostly shot using natural light.
Maximo lives with his widowed father and two elder brothers in a close family where everyone accepts Maximo for who he is: a twelve-year-old boy with feminine ways. Maximo falls for the block's new hunky policeman, who rescues Maximo from a potential back-alley rape (pun intended). But when his family has a run-in with the law (father to older son: "I raised you as a thief, not as a killer"), where should Maximo's loyalties lie? It's a small story, touching in place, but has tragic consequences.
As a westerner I found this film an opportunity to witness a different - but not that different - culture. One of the joys of independent cinema is that it gives you the chance to enjoy films that are both extraordinary and charming too. This is one such film.
What else can I say, that might be of use to a potential purchaser? Well, the original Tagalong-language title of the film alludes to the leaving behind of puberty, but the words employ a feminine gender to conflict with Maximo's masculine name. The attempt at a Miss Universe contest - and the accompanying overacting - by the local gayboys is mildly amusing. The film has a 15 certificate, supposedly because it contains strong language. Ha! So we can forget the portrayal of street violence, then?
There are a number of extras on this disc. In the director's commentary (in English) we learn of his background in documentary film-making. He is also a playwright and theatre director. He says he had interviewed local gay boys for the part, but they were either too self-conscious or overacted. As for Nathan Lopez, who took on the role, he had to learn to walk and talk the part by focussing partly on his elder sister. He was initially not keen to do the role, and neither were his family, but both his father and his sister end up in the film too!
The extras also include an eighteen-minute Q&A with the director at the 2006 London Film Festival. Is the film autobiographical? Well, partly. He came out when he was thirteen as a gayboy and his first love was an officer when he later did his military training.