There’s a lot to attract me in Joselito Altarejos’ Ang Lihim ni Antonio (Antonio’s Secret): A frank, non-sentimental, complicated depiction of teenage sexuality (not as harrowing or honest as Towelhead, but not coy either), an emphasis on long-takes with an unhurried documentary style (“I’ll just shoot this scene until I get it all”), some lovely shot set-ups and artful, often oblique framing and finally, an appealing, natural cast of amateur actors. Among whom is also one of the hottest, butchest Filipino studs I’ve ever seen, who convincingly plays a sometime rent boy.
I’m a sucker for slow-moving films anyway, but one of the film’s most simple and effective shots shows only Antonio’s mother brushing her hair in front of a mirror, for as long as it takes for that act, and her subtly changing expressions, to say something, or many things.
So what goes wrong?
The pro-gay didactics of some of the dialogue didn’t bother me so much, although the superfluous voiceovers annoyed me quite a bit, since I think it’s an educating stage that most gay national cinema goes through. Director Altarejos might have thought it was necessary given his desire to reach a wider, presumably somewhat squeamish audience. Although I find the latter a bit, uh, hard to swallow, given that all these multi-generational, non-professional Filipino folks agreed to be in a movie which depicted, twice, a 15-year old boy giving his 25-year old uncle hand jobs and blow jobs.
(I laughed out loud when, after Antonio had just finished sucking off his uncle upstairs, Antonio’s mother gives him a goodbye kiss and says: “Your breath is so bad!” More humor like that, please!)
Still, the gay lecturing was actually made more palatable and charming in that most of the education comes through the mouth of a Google-savvy, straight-but-not-narrow 15-year old friend of the main character.
The driving force behind everything bad that happens in this movie is male (hetero)sexuality. Straight men are the source of all evil in the world, whether it’s Antonio’s absent father, or the way the hot uncle treats his family, or more immediately, how he uses and abuses the sex-crazed nephew that shares his bed. Things get much, much worse than that, but since I think this film is worth seeing, I’m not going to spoil it.
It wouldn’t be exaggerating to describe Antonio’s Secret as suffering from heterophobia, a prejudice that spills over onto all the main male characters, even Antonio, constraining his characterization so severely that he’s defined almost exclusively by a passive sexuality. All the men are so dick-driven, that the film’s violent, dramatic climax seems forced and telegraphed and not particularly believable, either. Worst of all, it was unnecessary, and I have to disagree with its premise.
The denouement, on the other hand, surprised me and returned Altarejos to his best instincts. Suffice to say that Antonio’s secret is not that he’s gay.