The Butcher | Is Brillante Mendoza now a master at staging lesbian love scenes?

Palitan is actually more than just a GL movie. It contains another one of the usual elements in a Brillante Mendoza: family issues. That is true of Kaleldo, Ma’ Rosa and even the notoriously sexy Serbis. In Palitan, the family issue here is the objection of Jen’s (Cara Gonzales) father to her being a lesbian. He wants her properly married to someone of the opposite sex – in spite of the fact that another daughter is a battered wife. Oh, the hypocrisy of society. Brilliante Mendoza spells all that out in Palitan in a manner that is no less than brilliant.

Photos: Vivamax

Palitan is actually more than just a GL movie. It contains another one of the usual elements in a Brillante Mendoza: family issues. That is true of Kaleldo, Ma’ Rosa and even the notoriously sexy Serbis. In Palitan, the family issue here is the objection of Jen’s (Cara Gonzales) father to her being a lesbian. He wants her properly married to someone of the opposite sex – in spite of the fact that another daughter is a battered wife. Oh, the hypocrisy of society. Brilliante Mendoza spells all that out in Palitan in a manner that is no less than brilliant.

The word “palitan” runs an entire gamut of definitions in the Tagalog vocabulary. In every day business terms, it could refer to exchange rates - “palitan ng dolyar,” for example. In the underworld of the narcotics, it could mean the illegal exchange of cash and dangerous substance.

But in cinema, it could take on sexual undertones. Palitan, for instance, is the title of a rather sexy film that starred Mara Lopez in 2012.

It is rather baffling why Brillante Mendoza decided to use the title Palitan in his newest film that is now streaming on Vivamax. That could easily be confused with Ato Bautista’s Palitan movie.

Mendoza’s Palitan is totally different. It features four lead characters: two boys and two girls. But it is not a local and updated version of the classic Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which was adapted for the big screen by Carlos Siguion-Reyna in Misis Mo, Misis Ko in 1988.

Mendoza’s Palitan is a GL or Girls Love film. GL is a new term for lesbian story on screen – as opposed to BL or Boys Love, which is about male homosexual lovers.

Initially, the viewer is introduced to couple No. 1: Jen and James (Cara Gonzales and Luis Hontiveros). They are a Manila-based couple working on wedding preparations. Jen isn’t really thoroughly city-bred. She comes from a province and a visit there introduces the audience to the second couple: Marie and Al (Jela Cuenca and Rash Flores). They are both Jen’s childhood friends. They are also about to be wed. Jen and James actually take the trip down south purposely for that wedding.

The visit to the province stirs up the past and this affects Jen’s future. This is where the lesbian element of the film comes in.

The exposition of Palitan is rather long. Mendoza goes through the length of introducing the family background of the major characters. That takes up a huge chunk of screen time, but it is an effort that may be appreciated by the more patient viewer.

At least, it’s not like most other local movies where the characters are made to be orphans in the story to save on actors’ talent fee. Yes, that is an old trick used to scrimp on production budget.

Of course, there are no expensive actors in the cast. The most notable and experienced is Rolando Inocencio. Rolando Inocencio, who? He is one of the finest characters actors in Philippine cinema – a mainstay of a lot of Jose Javier Reyes films when the director was still at his prolific stage.

Rolando Inocencio plays Jen’s father, a religious fellow whose heart is crushed by the lifestyle choice made by his daughter. He is outstanding in Palitan, as to be expected.     

Thankfully, he makes no minced meat out of the younger set of lead actors. Each one is guided well by Mendoza. But the best performance is delivered by Jela Cuenca. Maybe because she adds another dimension to her rural lass role by putting on a rather subtle accent to her speech. It is hardly noticeable, except perhaps to the more perceptive viewer. But it is there and this makes her work even more admirable.

The truth is, the engaging performances of the lead stars prevent the viewer from getting bored stiff while waiting for the dramatic twists in the story. Even the unknown actors who play tertiary parts all help in making most of the scenes come alive.

Palitan’s extended exposition is also made bearable due to the use of rural locale, which those trapped in the city (no thanks to the pandemic) may appreciate even just virtually (a term so overused since the start of COVID-19).

No, there are no Amorsolo pastoral scenes in Palitan. Mendoza presents the provincial life the way it is at present – with electricity and other modern amenities. This makes the scenes very real.

Even some of the littlest situations in the movie are well-thought out. Marie and Al, for example, get the mayora as one of the principal sponsors. Isn’t that very typical of provincial weddings? Or maybe even elsewhere in the Philippines.

The most powerful (read: moneyed) people are the most sought-after individuals when it comes to weddings and even baptismal. That is already ingrained – sadly – in Philippine culture.

But Mendoza doesn’t stop at that. He adds another layer to the mayora character.

When the engaged couple visits her to hand the wedding invitation, she is initially shown in the balcony - preoccupied with some business on her cellular phone. The annoyance is all over her face. But when she comes down to meet the couple, she automatically shifts moods and gives them all her attention. They are her constituents after all – plus their combined relatives. She would need their votes come election time.

Before that entire sequence with the mayora ends, Mendoza yet adds another tiny detail: Would the couple be mindful enough not to put the mayora beside her ex-husband at the wedding?

She says this jokingly, of course, and Marie and Al easily take the cue and merely laugh it off. They will comply with the request, of course. This scenario may be unnecessary to some, but it truly adds another realistic touch to the story.

Mendoza’s attention to details is one of the factors that makes him a topnotch director. Of course, this is to be expected of him since he started out in the field of production design. And the viewer sees the production designer in him all over the place in Palitan. This side of him is an additional boon to the movie because even those native rice cakes served to the jeweler vending wedding rings help enrich the film’s flavor.

Mendoza, however, seems to excel at another facet of movie-making: handling lesbian love scenes. In his Pampango film Kaleldo, there is a delicate lesbian love scene between Cherry Pie Picache and Aleck Bovick. There is no nudity here. Aleck Bovick simply goes down there with the back of her head to the camera and yet the whole scene looks hot and steamy because of the expression on Cherry Pie’s face.

The lesbian sex scenes are actually more graphic and more erotic in Palitan, but are tastefully done still. The sexual tension between Jen and Marie is palpable all throughout the film every time they share the screen.   

Palitan is actually more than just a GL movie. It contains another one of the usual elements in a Brillante Mendoza: family issues. That is true of Kaleldo, Ma’ Rosa and even the notoriously sexy Serbis.

In Palitan, the family issue here is the objection of Jen’s father to her being a lesbian. He wants her properly married to someone of the opposite sex – in spite of the fact that another daughter is a battered wife. Oh, the hypocrisy of society.

Brilliante Mendoza spells all that out in Palitan in a manner that is no less than brilliant.

 

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