QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
A candidate’s electoral vans belts out loud-hailer exhortations to secure votes in an upcoming election, but nobody in the poor rural locality through which they pass pays any attention. Everyone is struggling to make ends meet. Middle-aged Sarah (Sue Prado) puts all her efforts into both running a laundry business, providing ad hoc employment for much younger Amy (Elora Españo) who lives nearby, and teaching students online. Sarah’s son Emman (Kokoy De Santos) has just lost his job at a restaurant because it closed down. He doesn’t seem to share her work ethic, and would rather lounge around in bed all day than actually have to do anything of an employed nature.
Or, at least, that’s how things appear outwardly.
When his mother finally prises Emman from his bed so that he can go out looking for work – which might include a contact she has who may, possibly, be able to help him – he instead hangs out at the house of Amy who, like his mother, has a strong work ethic, to have sex with her at every opportunity, and do drugs. While Amy enjoys the physical side of things as much as Emman does, she is dissatisfied with the rest. “Am I just your fuck buddy?” she asks him, clearly wanting more of a relationship than just the carnal. She’d like to be able to go around with him and the two of them be seen as a couple in public, but he won’t have it.
And like a corrupt politician pretending to be squeaky clean, Emman has a strong reason as to why not. When he gets back home, he has sex with Sarah too, because they are not mother and son (despite pretending otherwise outside their house). They are in fact lovers, and the physical passion they share is just as strong as that he secretly shares with Amy. Throughout the film, he repeatedly describes their relationship as husband and wife when he talks to Sarah about it, something he doesn’t do with Amy. Both women appear to genuinely love him, without the knowledge that he’s cheating on both of them. By comparison, he appears duplicitous, deceptive and selfish, someone simply out to satisfy his own lust without having to give either of the women anything in return. Perhaps there are darker, misogynistic feelings lurking in there as well. As for going out and getting gainful employment to supplement the household income, even if viable work is offered to him on a plate, he doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in taking up any good opportunities if he can get away with it.
Into this potential powder keg of intense sexual and social relationships comes Oliver (Miggy Jimenez), a student of Sarah’s she has taken in to save him from his violent father. He is slightly younger than Emman and plays the guitar. He works his way into Amy’s affections in just as physical a way as Emman. Oliver isn’t averse to taking drugs at the same time. Emman starts to experience intense feelings of jealousy, but Amy doesn’t see it that way and is soon encouraging a threesome with the two of them. However, Emman’s darker inner emotions start to gnaw at him.
Something similar happens with Oliver and Sarah, when she too takes the younger man into sexual congress. Then the emotions of her ‘husband’ get the better of him, and he exposes to Sarah the fact of Oliver and Amy’s relationship and drug abuse without any mention of his own involvement. He now finds himself shut out of the relationship with his ‘wife’ in favour of Oliver, while Sarah cuts off the younger woman in terms of laundry work, placing her in a dire financial position. Before long, however, the older woman relents with regard to shutting out her husband so that she, too, is involved in a polyamorous relationship with the two younger men. Within Emman’s inner being, however, jealousy and hatred continue to swirl. Violence is not far away…
As the film closes, the electoral canvassing vans roll past the locality again, irrelevant as ever.
To those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of modern Filipino history, this plays out as a drama with a heavy erotic element, which eventually explodes into violence. The family itself is pretty odd – a mother and son who are not actually mother and son but lovers, a second son who via a similar relationship with the woman ends up in a polyamorous one. And if we’re talking about an incestuous family, it might not be too big a stretch to suggest that the second woman, who appears closer in age to the two young men, represents a sister figure.
At first glance, the piece casts its women in a much more favourable light than its men. And yet… a mother who has sex with her child? That’s clearly a form of abuse, and it might be said that the Filipino people elect governments that subsequently abuse them.
It’s all very engaging while you watch, bravely performed by the able cast, and seems to have been crafted with deep political intent – an attempt to understand how the Philippines has got to where it is now. Although technically a democracy, with a political system loosely modelled on the US (of which it was a colony between 1898 and 1946), the country’s elected leaders have been drawn from a small pool of the rich and powerful, with some dynastic families supplying more than one president over time. Perhaps the incestuous ‘family’ pictured is a proxy of the nation’s nepotistic politics.
A whole additional subplot concerns drug abuse, with the second youth a particularly enthusiastic user and the other woman ultimately getting shopped to the drug enforcement authorities. That may well relate to Filipino President Rodriguo Duterte’s unpopular War on Drugs in which over 5,000 people were killed according to official figures.
Director Jun Robles Lana makes his films for the domestic Filipino audience and the festival circuit. There is currently some question whether the film will ever get a release in the Philippines because of its political stance and censorship laws. Jun Robles Lana won last year’s Critics’ Picks Competition with his film About Us But Not About Us (2022).
Your Mother’s Son just played in the spirit of the Critics’ Picks Section of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (out of competition).