I have seen a lot of incoherent gay indie films. I’ve seen plenty of films that were little more than delivery systems for a parade of young men in their underwear, their stories completely incidental to their inevitable nudity. And yet, I do not think I’ve seen anything nearly as incoherent as Bata Pa Si Rafael. It is a mind-boggling movie all together, existing in a world where all people talk about is growing pubic hair, getting circumcised, and masturbating.
The film follows young Rafael as he comes of age. The first half of the film takes place in the province, where Rafael is looking for his first sexual experiences. His cousin’s girlfriend Suzette lusts after him, and makes a deal with his friend Vincent in order to get him into bed with her. As Rafael explores his sexuality, he gets wind of Vincent making money by prostituting himself to homosexuals. The second half brings Rafael to Manila, where he stays with his friend Chandro. Chandro has eyes for Rafael as well, and it isn’t long before Rafael opens up to a completely different world.
It’s standard stuff, really, except no one in the film talks or acts like a normal person. Rafael keeps mentioning his recent circumcision to people, offering it as proof that he’s all grown up now and ready for sex. A good chunk of the film has the various characters explaining the facts of life to Rafael, except it seems that all of them got their knowledge about sex from a badly translated Chinese sex ed pamphlet. Practically everyone in the film gets into sexual situations by letting themselves be molested by third parties. It isn’t very healthy, to say the least.
It goes without saying that the film is badly made. The story feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, none of it fitting together. Half the shots are out of focus, and more tricycles are heard in the film than actual dialogue. Not that there’s anything worth hearing anyway. The film can’t be bothered to match its shots in the edit. Scenes with two characters talking feel completely disconnected. At times, it doesn’t even feel like the actors are in the same area. Whatever story the film has is completely lost to the incoherent editing. The one scene the film keeps returning to is set in a rocky beach. Rafael has his backed turned to the audience, facing the ocean. He is wearing a bathrobe. As the movie goes on, his bathrobe drops lower and lower. The symbol is both pretentious and painfully obvious. The movie is so lacking in self-awareness that it’s difficult to stifle the laughter.
Bata Pa Si Rafael is barely a movie. That it’s gotten into any theater is already beyond my understanding. Somewhere along the process of bringing the movie to cinemas, someone really ought to have stood up and objected to the very idea of exhibiting the film. Not out of a sense of morality or public decency, but to maintain just a hair of a standard for Filipino cinema. But I guess this isn’t really all that big of a priority for the powers that be anymore. And so with every film, the bar is set lower and lower, and the culture just falls deeper into incoherence.