I chanced upon the premiere showing of this indie film at the Fisher Mall cinema this afternoon. The ticket was rather expensive at P300. Aside from Jay Manalo playing a cross-dresser in the poster, I did not see who else is in it nor who directed it. But as the girl at the table explained this film's advocacy for AIDS awareness, I decided to buy a ticket to help in their worthy campaign.
The title "Pusit" is gay lingo for "positive", specifically "HIV positive." Throughout the 2-hour course of the film, we will be meeting six HIV-positive patients who now had AIDS and how they cope with their dire illness. We will also meet the family and friends around them and the different ways these people react to the difficulty of caring for AIDS patients, as well as how they deal with the social stigma around it.
Samuel (Rolando Innocencio) is an OFW who came home afflicted with AIDS. Despite her disgust, his wife Lerma (Angelina Kanapi) still goes with him to the doctor. Alfred (Kristofer King) is a young gay guy with AIDS who reconnects with his old flame, an older gay executive Greg (Ronnie Quizon). Sonia (Tere Gonzales) is a millennial from a broken home who contracted AIDS from her recreational drug habit and the sexual orgies that go with it.
Mark (Mike Liwag) is the gay son of a well-to-do lawyer Mrs. Romero (Rina Reyes). When he got full-blown AIDS, he was confined in his own room taken care of by a private yaya while his mother went to work. Victor (Lehner Mendoza) is the gay eldest son of Aling Naty (Elizabeth Oropesa) who eventually contracted AIDS because of his promiscuous gallivanting, much to the shame of his younger siblings.
Mama Josie (Jay Manalo) is a glamorous transwoman, owner of her own beauty salon ably managed by his close friend Cheska (Joel Saracho). However, when she contracted AIDS, she became depressed and withdrawn. She temporarily gets a new lease on life when she meets the young DOTA addict Ian (JM Santos), but the psychological burden of her illness may still be too heavy for her to bear.
The MTRCB classification of this film was confusing. Outside the theater, the sign says R-13. In the announcement right before the film, it said PG! The subject matter of this film is definitely R-16 or higher. There were scenes of gratuitous nudity in bed scenes, irresponsible sexual behavior, drug use, suicide, profanities in the DOTA playing scenes -- topics which were definitely for more appropriate for mature audiences only.
I liked how this film explored varied psychological issues experienced by AIDS patients and their loved ones. These were not too preachy, heard in conversations between doctor and patient, and between two nurses. I did not mind didactic scenes where they were discussing medical issues about HIV and AIDS. I thought it was an important overview about CD4 levels in the blood and the effect and side effects of ARV (anti-retrovirus) drugs. I noted also how all the eating scenes would cite vegetable dishes, like sayote, ampalaya or alugbati. I liked that subtle promotion for eating vegetables.
However, because of the many threads writer-director Arlyn de la Cruz had to weave together, the story-telling meandered aimlessly at times. It tended to stay too long in a number of talky, repetitive, seemingly ad-libbed scenes, such as that Naty and Victor's argument at the sink or Josie and Ian's lunch date scene. Sometimes it goes completely off-tangent to give significant screen time to a needless side episode, such as that encounter of Samuel with the callow youngish prostitute Nancy (Majalyn Fuentes).
There were some lengthy scenes that worked though, both noisy and quiet. My favorite noisy scene was that scene where Mark was having hallucinations of spiders and snakes and his mother was desperately trying to calm him down. This scene was over-the-top, but I have to give props to Ms. Rina Reyes for such a genuine performance there. My favorite quiet scene was that of Samuel and Lerma lying side by side on the bed, with Lerma eventually turning to her side, giving a sign that she is welcoming back her husband again. Angelina Kanapi was very eloquent in her silence.
My biggest disappointment about this film involved its longest scene -- a twenty-minute long monologue of Mama Josie recording her thoughts about her illness for posterity. To be fair, it started out well-enough. However, it just droned on and on and on, one cannot help but doze off or drift off. What is worse, this scene ends in the most negative way, which I thought was very ironic since Mama Josie is the poster girl of this film -- a film which was supposed to promote positivity among AIDS patients. I realize that her fate does happen in real life. However for the purposes of this film and its advocacy, I wish it could have happened to one of the minor characters instead, not Josie. 4/10.