Just letting everyone know that this is not an addition to the recent discourse about the representation of LGBT+ community in Philippines’ mainstream media. For the next few minutes, I am going to talk about Baka Bukas as a film, not as a representation of LGBT+. Although I acknowledge that this film is a way to represent the LGBT+ community, I will not be saying anything about that. I believe that there are much more qualified and eloquent voices out there. This entire write-up will just be about the direction, writing, characterization, cinematography, and other cinematic elements, and not about the intersectionality of its representation nor the queer cinema of the Philippines.
And now, the review:
Directed by Samantha Lee, Baka Bukas was one of the official entries in the Cinema One Originals Film Festival that tackles themes such as homosexuality, coming out, acceptance, friendship, and ultimately, love. Baka Bukas is the story of Alex (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) who is in love with her best friend, Jess (Louise delos Reyes) but Jess has no idea about her best friend’s sexuality and feelings. But of course, Jess was bound to know and everything started from there.
While this film is commendable for giving representation to gays and lesbians in mainstream, Baka Bukas as a film – as a work of art – does not work. Baka Bukas did not offer anything new to the table. Predictability has never been an issue. You can tell stories that have been told for thousands of years but what’s important is the execution. Execution trumps predictability. Sadly, the execution of the story and themes in this film were weak and disappointing.
Thematically, everything was all over the place. They just dumped everything and expected everyone to consume and understand the themes of the film. There were the theme of best friends to lovers, coming out, understand one’s sexuality, and the usual career or love problem. They tried to do everything but in doing so, they achieved nothing.
For a story about a girl falling in love with her best friend, this film failed to feel romantic. During the entire film, they just told the audience that Alex is in love with Jess. From the first few scenes, they established that she has strong emotions towards her best friend but they never showed it. Instead, of showing how Alex feels, they were telling her feelings. Storytelling in film should always be about showing the story, not spelling things out for the audience. Stop telling us that she is in love with her best friend, SHOW it to us. This way, the story would be more emotional and the audience would be more emotionally invested in the relationship of these two. The emotional impact of telling the story is weaker compared to the impact if the story is being shown. Additionally, the development of their relationship was weak. It was not properly fleshed out. The audience knows that Alex has been in love with Jess for years but the film never showed if Jess felt the same way. There was never a build up to their relationship. They just showed that one minute, Jess found out that Alex is a lesbian, and the next, they are in a relationship. This is weak writing. There is so much potential for this dynamic but they presented this theme and left it at that. This is supposed to be the central theme of this film but it felt lackluster.
There were also parts where Jess was not sure of her sexuality but they did not tackle the struggle of questioning one’s sexuality. Jess just magically realized that she like other girls too? Or is it just Alex? Her character was so flat and boring. She was just there to be Alex’s love interest and they did not even discuss her sexuality. They did have a conversation about Jess’ sexuality but it was just one scene and they completely breezed through it. Discovering one’s sexuality is important to build identity but it felt like it was not important at all in this narrative. This is another sign of weak writing, and another wasted opportunity to tackle LGBT+ issues.
The characters had weak motivations. They were so dry and flat that it was impossible to connect with them. For a person that identifies as an LGBT+, I thought that finally, there is a main character that I could connect with. And that I would also feel happy because I can finally see myself, my identity, on the big screen. Unfortunately, this was not the case. There was never an emotional connection here because the characterization, writing, and development were weak and flat. They were overly simplified. It would have been better if they created more complex characters, more fleshed out characters. That would definitely add to the film’s complexity.
Cinematically, no one can deny that the cinematography and the visuals of the film is pleasing to the eyes. The color grading was pretty, the neon, and silhouettes were beautiful. There were even parts during the bar where it felt and looked like the San Junipero episode from Black Mirror. The visuals were great, but it was style over substance. The images were not enough to make this a great film because the writing was weak.
The direction was fine. Lee was able to use different elements of films like the cinematography, sound design, and production. It just so happened that the writing was terrible and it dragged down the entire film.
As the film ends and you are looking at the end credits, you will be left thinking, “That’s it? That’s the movie?” Everything felt flat – from the characters, conflicts, and themes. What could have been a great film for the LGBT+ community and its allies, Baka Bukas turned out to be an overhyped film that does not live up to it.
Still, we can never overlook the fact that they showed this nationwide. This is another step for queer cinema in the Philippines. Sure, we still have a long way to go but getting your foot inside the door is what’s important. Maybe in the next few years, a better, well-crafted LGBT+ film will be released and it will be the film we all deserve and need.