TAXICAB (2011)

[cross-published at]

Archie Del Mundo's debut feature film, Taksikab (2010), if one looks at Philippine Gay Cinema for the past few years, is at risk of being tagged as a sexploitation film capitalizing on eroticized male-to-male sex with a supreme focus on sexual violence. The film might appear to some as depicting a negative image of the local contemporary gay culture. One might ask: is Taksikab a progressive film about Philippine gay culture? This question demands more than a small film review as it needs extensive research on the cultural impact on gay films vis-a-vis with the rise of Gay movement in the Philippines. But what is more important now is to ask, does Taksikab follows the standard aesthetics of gay film at all?

Taksikab's narrative structure and style transgresses from traditional mode of storytelling. Within an interconnected narrative, Del Mundo uses his camera to pierce with a neorealist eye into the lives of his character with a centerpiece on a taxi driver named David. David drives the narrative forward as he deals with the rejection of his partner, Bojong. Bojong went back to his province to escape the impending doom that awaits him in the city, an act which drove David mad leading to a hapless tragedy in the end. He becomes the "destroyer", the one who will accidentally kill the character of 'hope', the child named Toto. Toto is David's son to Marife, the 'optimist' (played by the beautiful Marife Necesito). She is the only character who looks ahead in the future with bright eyes.

This dynamic relationship between Marife, Toto and David, a dysfunctional family as one looks at it, is an anti-thesis of the archetypal, happy-go-lucky, middle-class Filipino bourgeois family depicted in local commercial films these days whose problems were mostly about their struggles to keep their family together and protect their Christian values. Taksikab's version of a family is situated at the lowest order of Philippine society with its members living, by Christian moral standards, sinful lives. Marife is a prostitute while Toto, at a very young age of nine-years-old, is a drug dealer and a pimp to co-prostitutes of Marife. David is a closeted gay taxi driver who picks up male prostitutes at night. The three lives act as a core that holds an even larger network of lives of people from this lower strata. With this center, the film tells us more about the lower class' struggle for survival than the gay eroticism that permeates within.

Equally important are the characters orbiting around the central narrative represented by five male characters all of which are members of the lowest strata except one: Pepe, an ex-convict and roommate of a male prostitute turned taxi driver Tony; Popoy, a drug dealer whose homophobic self-deprecation will cause him attack David in the latter part of the film; Troy, a prostitute-drug addict who refused to go back to U.S. His character is loosely based on a famous Filipino-American serial killer Andrew Cunanan. His regular costumer is Sonny, a rich guy lost in this dark and dissonant underworld. Each one of them carries their own conflicts, each exchanging their bodies for drugs, money, and sex. Through these transactions a rough sketch of the lower class' 'economic' system has been laid out: a cutthroat deathtrap pushing its participant to strenuous limits just to make the ends meet.

Taksikab's male-to-male sex scenes, treated with non-erotic temperament and laded with hostility, violence and disgust, mirrors contemporary gay culture in Manila. Taksikab forges itself to speak the truth about the current crisis in the local gay culture: homophobia and the staggering class conflict between the overt and covert homosexuals in the Philippines. It looks straight into this crisis. Del Mundo laid out this problem with striking extremism penetrating through this dynamic labyrinth of dark desires and libidinal excesses. The film starts with David masturbating during waking hours, a homage to Ana Kokinnos' opening in her film Head On (1998). Like Head On, Taksikab follows a character through the course of one day: from day to night, from light to darkness. One sees an obvious parallelism between the two main characters: Ari of Head On and David of Taksikab. However, it is much apparent that David is the darker half of the two feeding his apparent confusion with his sexuality and sense of loss for Bojong with violent pits and outbursts. Ari is more fortunate than David. Not only David is trapped within this dark and decadent society but also every character in the film except Bojong who got away.

Crossing through these interchanges between the wide network of people, from victim to victim, a faint lingering presence of the government is felt. Set during the inauguration of the new president, Noynoy Aquino, it struts a critique to the government for their lack of intervention during the course of the narrative. Through the lingering camera shots lenghty by traditional standards, clocking at an average of three-minute per shot, the film centers on this crisis that at its heart are people not only battling the complexities of their sexualities but also the overwhelming class conflict and hierarchical disparity within this this ill-fated society. At the end of the film, clasping within Marife's hand is Toto, killed by father David, the 'hope', which everyone sought for, already dead. Del Mundo's vision of Philippine society is miserably uncomfortable, alienating his viewers with unparalleled darkness, that as David drives us to the tragic fate of the characters, one asks, have one thought of escaping one day from this oblivion? Only in cinema can we find a reassuring escape.