The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros centres on an effeminate young boy (Maximo), living in the slums of Manila in the Philippines with his father Paco, a small-time crook, and two brothers named ‘Boy’ and ‘Bogs’. The opening sequences of the film, which show the young lip-glossed, colourfully dressed Maximo mincing through the backstreets of Manila are slightly difficult to digest but I was, ultimately, pleasantly surprised to find a sophisticated and provocative film.

When he is harassed by teenage thugs in a dark alley, Maximo is saved from a potentially horrific assault by the idealistic and somewhat naive policeman Victor (JR Valentin). At the tender age of twelve Maximo falls in love with Victor; but events take an unforeseeably sinister turn when Maximo’s brother Boy commits murder. Maximo alone knows of his brother’s crime and when Victor launches an investigation into the murder, Maximo is left torn between loyalty to his brother and adoration for Victor.

‘The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros’ is at once a story of innocence and corruption.; Maximo finds himself drawn into the very adult world of police brutality, crime and even love while still remaining a stranger to it. Maximo is essentially a fantasist- when the troubles of real life overwhelm him he loses himself in pirate screenings of romantic sagas and takes part in ‘beauty contests’ with his (equally effeminate) friends. So, his attraction to Victor is in reality based on childlike fascination and a yearning for security rather than actual sexual desire. Similarly, Maximo’s role as the ‘girl’ of the house, cooking is a form of make believe; Maximo playing at being an adult. Nathan Lopez’s performance as Maximo is both mature and nuanced; he captures the confusion and torment of being suspended between childhood and adolescence perfectly.

For Director Auraeus Solito, who grew up in Manila and describes himself as “a gay boy,” ‘The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros’ is a very personal story. Indeed, it is Solito’s familiarity with his subject (it was filmed in his old neighbourhood with many of his neighbours as the supporting cast) that results in such an engaging and convincing film. The social context of the film is handled skilfully. The web of poverty and corruption that eventually enfolds the family becomes the invisible villain of the piece. At the same time, the narrative is injected with a sense of hope by the bonds between Maximo, Paco, Bogs and Boy. Here, we discover an intimate snapshot of a close family brutalised by circumstance and struggling to survive amidst devastating poverty.

With a budget of only $19,000 and Filmed digitally ‘The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros’ is infused with a raw creativity. The experimental cinematography allows the colour and vibrancy of Manila to emerge alongside the darker undertones of the film. While ‘The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros’ will not appeal to all tastes, I found it simultaneously playful, moving and ultimately bittersweet. Definitely one to watch if you’re looking for something unique.
1 June
ICA, Key Cities

Mary Clare Waireri