The new film by Denisa Reyes and Mark Gary, whose Sandalang Bahay lit up Cinemalaya a couple of years ago, is a searing investigation of sexual politics and Manila theatrical life.
Hubad is different in many ways from its predecessor. Whereas the scenes that linger from Sandalang Bahay are the shimmering seascapes and the children running through the grass, Hubad is framed in claustrophobic interiors; the rehearsal room, the bedroom, the car. This allows cinematographer Miguel Fabie to work the tensions between the actors, both as characters in this movie and as lovers in the play they are rehearsing. The lack of a clear boundary between the two roles is the main driver of the work, as the excellent main actors Irma Idlawan and Nonie Buencamino find themselves constantly on a borderline between who they are trying represent and who they are.
It is sex that draws the characters in Hubad together, and it is sexual infidelity and fears of inadequacy that drive a wedge between them. Hubad is an engrossing film, but not a comfortable one and some of the bitterest dialogue reminded me of Albee’s Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf in its instinct for the jugular. Fortunately, it is excellently edited and paced, so never becomes merely depressing; even as the characters are gouging lumps from each other, they are caught up in the larger project, their play; although cruel and unforgivable words pierce to the bone, the show must go on.
The main positive force in the film is the way the rehearsals and the creation of a work of art raise the protagonists above their messy lives onto higher ground. The film celebrates not just the importance of art, but of art in poor country. Far too many stories ignore the fact that all of us spend far too much of our time worrying about money, either actively or subconsciously. I particularly liked the way money, or its absence, was an ever present in the movie, both in the characters’ lives (the phone bills unpaid, the auditions for demeaning theme park jobs) and in the way it threatens the integrity, or even the existence, of the play they are rehearsing. It is the play’s director, sympathetically played by Peque Gallaga, who has to juggle his personal and professional priorities to get his work performed. Hubad’s treatment of the practical side of the theatrical experience is fascinating—no doubt artists in other countries have to struggle with censorious arts bodies, brutal telenovela directors, and penniless actors, but these issues are that much sharper when intense poverty is just outside the door.
Denisa Reyes and Mark Gary have shown that they can handle the large themes with great skill; it would be interesting to see them now tackle a smaller, less intense, and more impressionistic subject that would bring their considerable film-making skills to the fore.