CinemaOne 2011: BIG BOY Review
We live in the present, for the future. The past only becomes part of the present through memories, which are but figments of the imagination, collections of reality as perceived, designed and fashioned by the creative mind. Memories are never conjured spontaneously. They are urged, perhaps, through people, objects, faces, or emotions. It is this very malleable aspect of memories that makes them infinitely fascinating. We trust them but never fully, knowing that they are hardly objective, rarely completely reliable. They are dreams dreamt while awake. They are preludes to a trance subsisting on pain, joy, and everything else that have become requisite ingredients of evoking nostalgia.
Shireen Seno's Big Boy is a film that lives up to the feeling of being in a trance, of being transported in a place that could only exist within the boundaries of the mind. While familiar and unfamiliar episodes of somebody else's childhood flicker on screen, its audience's very memories are urged, eliciting emotions that are at once both daunting and comforting. Adapted from Seno's own memories of her childhood in the province, the film's plot details the experiences of a boy who is routinely stretched and served with fish oil by her parents so that he can be tall enough to be the poster boy for their business of selling fish oil.
True to the very element of memories that Seno attempts to replicate in the film, the plot is overtly disjointed, with points voluntarily left unseen, untold and unexplained like events consciously forgotten for whatever reason. Apparently, the film has bigger ambitions than merely telling a very personal story. In fact, the way the story was told with points consciously left out alludes to the limitations of memories, how some events, especially those done in repetition or coupled with violence or other things that would render them indelible, become ironclad memories and how some are simply forgotten.
The film attempts to replicate remembering, where sights and sounds are products of the imagination rather than of the senses. Cinema however is an art that is reliant on the senses, making it Seno's task to create in her film sights and sounds that resemble the ones seen and heard by the mind during the act of remembering. Shot in Super8, the film persists as a lyrical artifact of a forgotten era. The soft daytime hues, the kerosene lamp-lit nights, and the timeless Mindoro town become relatable images of a collective past. Conversations are inaccurately dubbed, with conversations jumping from Tagalog to the local dialect seemingly unplanned.
Seno regards memories as imperfectly crafted episodes. She pinpoints to the idea of remembering as a very personal effort, modified in time by the vast differences, whether in morality, politics, beliefs, the language spoken and other things, of the person remembering during the time when the event happened and the time when the event is remembered. Memories, in a way, are akin to fiction. Although more grounded on actual events than ordinary imagined stories, memories are still just fragments of the reality that gave birth to them. Big Boy, in that sense, with its very intimate story of a town still enamored by its past as an American colony, weaves memories and fiction together into an intoxicating portrait of a people who are unable to forget.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)