DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

The Masseur

This Filipino movie has more potential than its execution manages to accomplish, but its gay-for-pay topic is of great interest to LGBTQ+ audiences - from the Locarno Film Festival

The titular character is Illiac (Coco Martin) – a young man who caters to a male clientele in need of release (of any kind) in Manila. When his father dies, he travels back home for the funeral and both sides of his life – the smalltown boy and the urban sex worker – juxtapose inside him.

The film’s greatest strength is that it continuously finds new ways to convey that juxtaposition visually. In this context, the body becomes a powerful link between Illiac’s predicament in the countryside as well as in the city. In one scene, a sequence of cuts connects the act of disrobing before a massage with the act of dressing a corpse.

The script, written by Boots Agbayani Pastor, is enamoured of this type of contrast. Life and death constantly pop up against each other throughout the film – even if it’s sometimes so on the nose that it softens their blow. For example, while Illiac’s father is being buried, a lot of attention is given to a street game that’s taking place nearby.

This is symptomatic of the big narrative issues in display here. By focusing too much on the point this story is trying to make, the filmmakers forget to add depth to these characters. The audience never gets to know the inner thoughts of Illiac in regards to his profession – nor what may have driven him to it. His family relations are never fully fledged and it’s never fully clear how they deal with one another. He has a girlfriend who makes two (very obnoxious) appearances and then is strangely left out of the narrative.

The character who has more screen time besides the masseur is Alfredo (Alan Paule) – one of his clients who claims to be a writer. Their sessions together develop into some sort of seduction that takes up most of the feature’s latter half. While this could be a short film on its own, it feels inconsequential and disconnected in this context. The fact that Illiac’s sexuality is never openly discussed reinforces the narrative’s blind spot.

In hindsight, The Masseur‘s flaws may be attributed to the growing pains of juvenilia. Since its release, Martin became a star and Mendoza grew to be a powerhouse in Filipino filmmaking. Here, both artists show talent and skill, but they still lacked a clear voice.

The Masseur is showing as part of the Locarno Film Festival. You too can watch it at home by clicking here.

By Lucas Pistilli - 13-08-2020

Lucas Pistilli is a Brazilian-born journalist, currently based in Italy, with a passion for cinema and film criticism. He graduated and started out as a lawyer, before branching out to journalism in s...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Sexual diversity is at the very heart of [Read More...]
Films quotes are very powerful not just because [Read More...]

Read More

Apparition (Aparisyon)

Isabel Sandoval

Redmond Bacon - 10-08-2020

A self-contained nunnery finds itself intersecting with the forces of history in this mostly academic movie - running as part of Locarno Film Festival [Read More...]


Effendee Mazlan, Fariza Azlina Isahak

Redmond Bacon - 10-08-2020

Gangland, baby-trafficking drama from Malaysia returns to Switzerland - live from the Locarno Film Festival [Read More...]

Memories of my Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku)

Garin Nugroho

Lucas Pistilli - 13-08-2020

This highly lyrical Indonesian movie is a reflection on a life lived in full, exploring desire, looking for knowledge and embracing the intangible in an all-too-material world - from the Locarno Film Festival [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *