by Jansen Musico
D: Loy Arcenas
S: Sharmaine Buencamino, Anthony Falcon, Rez Cortez, Lou Veloso, Lilia Cuntapay
REquieme is a film that has balls, a pair of in-your-face appendages that you can’t just tuck away and forget. Its heroines are a transsexual with a heart of gold and the mother who disowned her. Despite the default inclinations of this character-driven plot, Loy Arcenas’s film speaks about the grief of loss than belabor the trusty cliché of the pursuit of genderless love.
It starts with Swanie (Sharmaine Buencamino), a barangay chairman gunning for a higher political position. To advance her popularity, she makes use of an international scandal, a murder of a notorious fashion designer in the hands of his gay Filipino lover, who just happens to share Swanie’s maiden name. The event balloons into a media frenzy that drives her to do whatever it takes to bring her very distant nephew back home in one piece.
Swanie’s estranged son Jose, now living as Joanne, is grieving the loss of her favorite fashion icon. Her mourning is prolonged when a father figure of hers dies abruptly, and she’s left to arrange his funeral and face a long line of bureaucracy along the way.
The two stories run along different planes, sometimes intersecting, but never fully meeting. This creates an effective parallel of two women in grief. The subjects of their sorrow, of course, are each other, and the events they set into motion become their way of coping with their loss. But the film does not dip into drama as often as one would expect. REquieme is a comedy, a funny one at that.
Arcenas takes advantage of the acting prowess of his leads. Both Buencamino and Falcon have impeccable comedic timing. Buencamino, in particular, has a switch that turns her into grade-A drama queen. The two carry the weight of the film on their shoulders, a feat they effortlessly achieve. Joined by an ensemble of notable bit players, Lilia Cuntapay and Lou Veloso included, the two give REquieme its life.
With an ample amount of bed scenes, 80% of which belong to Joanne and her boyfriend, the movie will definitely raise eyebrows. It makes no effort to stifle Joanne’s sexuality nor does it aim to celebrate it. Arcenas is careful to show what he knows to drive a point. The film is about transitioning. First, it’s about Jose becoming Joanna. The character is in the limbo stage of her transformation. Second, it’s about a mother and her son making efforts to let each other go and move on. The third is subtle, and yet it’s the most important one. The film is about the transition of the community, a changing of mindsets.
Requieme gives us a contrast of perceptions. Swanie’s barangay is one full of homophobes. They champion her as the woman who drove homosexuality away from their town. Joanne’s barangay sees her as a saint, a noble woman who’s always willing to help out. This is a microcosm of society as whole. It’s a tug of war between a culture of rejection and one of acceptance. There is no decisive victor in the film. Both women gain and lose, but at the same time, they’re set free.