The 2016 Metro Manila Film Fest (MMFF) is by far, the country’s most defiant form of cinematic counterculture seen in a while. Die Beautiful continues this trend, if not embodying it in its two hour long span.
Die Beautiful chronicles the life and struggles of Trisha Echevarria (Paolo Ballesteros): an aspiring beauty queen with the weight of the world on her shoulders. The movie shows Trisha go from her childhood to an untimely death, as those important to her recall the best of times they had with her during her wake.
The Filipino indie movie scene is primarily known for generally making only two kinds of films: Poverty exploitation cinema and Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) exploitation. Die Beautiful technically falls in the latter category, but it’s miles beyond its fucking pretentious ilk.
While other lesser movies resign themselves and bend over for stereotypes because it was mandated by the film’s financiers and/or egoistic and aging “stars,” Die Beautiful relishes in Filipino LGBTQ cliches if only to fuck with them when no one’s looking.
The movie’s gay characters do everything demanded by the mainstream media (ex. say sassy quotes, engage in cat-fights, be a straight man’s mistress, talk with an exaggerated flamboyant accent, etc.), but these are done in a realistic light. These scenes occur in Die Beautiful not to pander to some lowbrow fuckhead, but to show how they would actually play out in real life – i.e. with certain consequences. The lack of whimsical background music or canned laughter meant to set the mood helps drive the realism home, making Die Beautiful’s brand of humor distinctly deadpan yet genuine.
Die Beautiful also has a good grasp of character development, where it uses a non-linear approach to show the life of Trisha and company. Though it may be a bit confusing at first, Die Beautiful’s non-traditional storytelling eventually grows on viewers and earns their trust, making the characters more than just annoying cliches with legs.
The worst thing about Die Beautiful from a technical standpoint is that the movie would not fucking end. By the time the third act rolled in, Die Beautiful dragged and repeated itself too often. As satisfying as the conclusion was, it would have benefited Die Beautiful (and the audience) if the unnecessary scenes such as cameos and certain flashback scenes were cut or, at the least, shortened.
Too Many Beauty Queens
On the surface, Die Beautiful is just a more serious version of the stereotypical (and fucking noisy) Filipino Parlor Gay movie. Watching it reveals an unexpected layer of depth that discusses themes of sexual identity, existential matters such as death and one’s postmortem legacy. I am not kidding when I say that a movie where half of the scenes are beauty pageants sprinkled with occasional dick jokes is deeper than an indie movie where characters sulk about life while staring at a sunset for half a fucking hour.
By retelling familiar tropes and cliches associated to Filipino homosexual characters in a more realistic fashion, Die Beautiful makes its seemingly highbrow themes easily accessible. The way the script is written also helps, since characters don’t just stand on soapboxes, point fingers at those who think homosexuality is an affront to nature (Spoiler: IT’S NOT) and basically become sentient editorial cartoons with their heads rammed up their asses. Die Beautiful instead lets the cast’s actions speak for themselves, and it shows the joys and pains someone has to go through when they’re seen as a walking stereotype.
But Die Beautiful bit more than it could chew. Many interesting slices of Trisha’s colorful life are introduced throughout the film, but few are properly developed and concluded. Examples of these many underdeveloped events include: Trisha’s violently homophobic father, her disagreements with her own adopted daughter, and Trisha’s troubled love-life.
Dramatic occurrences, arcs and realizations about life’s limited chances for redemption are only brought up when Die Beautiful thinks it’s time for the audiences to cry like little bitches, instead of allowing these story yarns to fully develop and earn the desired emotional reactions. The end result is a rather crowded narrative that wants to say a lot but has little time to do so, losing many interesting individual points in the shuffle.
Beyond Beauty Pageants
Die Beautiful originates from a country where stereotypes define the LGBTQ community. Contrary to what some may claim, the Philippines is a country where homosexuality is merely tolerated so long as the funny-looking gays stick to entertaining the masses and stop asking for pesky human rights. After years of seeing this bullshit courtesy of the brain-dead mainstream media and backwards religious doctrines, it’s about time someone called out the stupidity of generalizing an entire group of people for the sake of ratings and ego. Die Beautiful takes up the task of showing the human side of an aged stereotype, and it did its job well even if tripped a bit on its way to the finish line.
I’m a straight guy who may know gay people, but I know fuck-all about experiencing the struggles being gay in the hypocrital shithole we live in. It’s one thing to hear their stories, but it’s another to actually live them. The visual storytelling of Die Beautiful is a good way to get front seat access to the daily trials of gay Filipinos, and for that, Die Beautiful serves as a good eye-opener for those (like myself) who will never know the first-hand experience. While Die Beautiful does paint LGBTQ people in a victimized manner similar to any indie LGBTQ themed movie, it’s still better than most of its pretentious counterparts.
Die Beautiful may be overlong and unfocused, but it still fucks with expectations and standards. Given how entrenched some of the social bullshit Die Beautiful tackles is, seeing a mainstream movie demolish established mindsets while retaining a well-told story that never shoves its head up its asshole was an unexpected and satisfying surprise.
This is the kind of film-making we need, not more paid vacations and cinematic circle-jerking.
Recommended Viewing: Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (2005), also known as The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros.
- Rainbow image taken from WeKnowYourDreams.com
- Weed shirt design taken from a wallpaper uploaded to HDPicturez.com.
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