The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveiros opens with shots of the squalor of the Manila slums—tattered clothes hanging to dry, rickety structures on the verge of collapse, dank alleys, garbage in the streets. A hand reaches out and plucks a floating flower from the garbage.
The hand belongs to the protagonist, twelve year old Maxi. Clearly we are to understand that the flower in the filth is symbolic of Maxi in the slum.
Therein lies a potential problem with this film: If I can spot the symbolism that easily—tone deaf as I am about such things—chances are it’s way, way too simple and obvious.
There are a few things throughout the film that are kind of amateurish like that, just a little too artsy or a little too obvious in telling you what emotions to feel.
I should also mention I had trouble getting used to the pacing of the subtitles and missed some lines here and there. They just seem to come and go quicker than I’m used to. Whether that is just the way they chose to do it, or the characters are speaking so rapidly that of necessity the lines can only stay on the screen briefly, I’m not sure.
Anyway, this is the story of a crime boss who runs the local numbers racket, sells stolen property, and has his hand in various other nefarious activities. But it’s really more about his home life. He is a single father to three boys—Maxi and his two brothers, who look to be maybe late teens. There’s no attempt to cover up the fact that the family is up to no good, but by focusing on their domestic interaction—which is mostly healthy and supportive—a somewhat favorable picture is drawn of them.
Certainly the most notable family member is young Maxi, who is the focus of the film. He is as girly a male character as I can ever remember seeing in a movie. He minces around in a wildly exaggerated feminine walk with his hips swaying, he sometimes crossdresses and the rest of the time dresses in a manner that is unisex at best, he sometimes wears make-up, he busies himself exclusively with traditionally female housework type chores, and he blatantly flirts with (grown) males like a desperate hooker at an overseas bar near a U.S. military base.
He’s so over-the-top flaming that you think you’re watching a Monty Python skit or some kind of parody. It distracts from the story, because it’s so intriguing watching in wonder as he somehow takes his girliness to greater and greater extremes.
I don’t know that it’s terrible overacting (though the way he loudly sniffs and snorts to indicate he’s crying is certainly annoying), because it may be he’s exactly what the character is supposed to be.
What’s especially odd are the reactions of other characters. Everyone treats him about how one would treat an eighteen year old girl. His family engages in occasional good-natured ribbing of him, but never with any malice. (Not that that’s a bad thing of course; it’s great that they’re so used to him that they don’t treat his femininity as anything bad or surprising.) There is only one small incident of harassment on the street the whole movie, and that could easily have happened if he were a random young person of either gender.
He has an extreme crush on a young cop, and takes to hanging out with him and flirting with him at every opportunity. The other cops tease their fellow a little about his “new girlfriend” and such, but there’s no indication their potentially sexual involvement concerns people. One of Maxi’s brothers finally makes one comment about how he hopes he hasn’t “done it with him” yet, but again even he treats it as no more—and indeed probably less—of a big deal than if it were his eighteen year old kid sister.
There appears to be no Chris Hansen in this culture to bring about moral judgment and punishment. Evidently twelve year old boys in make-up and women’s clothing throwing themselves at adult men is just a normal part of life.
The main story in the film is mildly interesting, though again a little simplistic I suppose. But it all seems like something of a side issue to watching this freak show of a kid “blossoming” to having very adult and very female sexual desires, and speculating about how accurate this movie is about what response that would garner, and what that says about that society.
So The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveiros held my interest to some extent, but probably more due to its peculiarity than to its being a good movie.