J. Pilapil Jacobo
The figure in question is addressed in a diminutive of the feminine. Her name is Señorita Donna: petite madame, little lady, precious fräulein. One cannot misrecognize what delicacy is at stake upon her entry into the frame. There she must go, a pageant queen.
Goddess of fab and fairy of glam, her drag can only be gorgeous. The swagger seems to be schooled in Balanchine, and perhaps honed through the pasarela. Unflappable is the flânerie, defying all manner of traffic in the tropic city. Gaze is fierce one moment, susceptible the next, without losing a sense of cunning in the shift. Surrounded by the smokiness of dry ice and conjured along proportions of a curious syncope, her soubrette must be most enticing to a seductee.
A miniature of what could be magnitude, if not every bit of immensity, this señorita translates the figure of the femme fatale into an idea even more svelte, perhaps into the feminine fatale whose queer maneuvers are premised on a most emphatic political argument through the cinema of Vincent Sandoval, a New York-based Filipino imagineer.
Donna is also Sofia. That should be the wisdom behind the maquillage. The crown, the sash, and the bouquet form the accoutrements of a costume that defers the exposure of her investments in the erotic trade. In Manila, Sofia ministers to the fantasies of bicurious boys and polyamorous men; in Talisay, Donna plays keen strategist of an emergent politics and surrogate mother to a precocious adolescent. One should be wont to read this as a double life, an enlargement of sorts of the feminine’s fatality, but Donna/Sofia reduces distinctions between fragments of her tangible secret. Donna’s savoir-faire is Sofia; they are the same preciosity. That Donna runs the show in the campaign of an aspirant for the town’s mayorship is less a passable evidence of a suspicious tolerance of queerness in the far-flung country than a compelling proof of the power of enchantment that Sofia has accumulated in all those torrid nocturnes in the port city. It is not so much the nonchalance of Donna’s company that is fascinating but the manner of seduction that is internalized by her immediate coterie.
Preciosity begets not just a degree of precariousness but a condition of precarity. To be little is to have less, so to speak.One is unsafe when one holds a thing dearly. In the world of the feminine fatale, what is at stake is the intimate, that scale of affection most prone to danger and its terminus, death. If Talisay offers to the queer subject a consolidation of her political participation in the republican state, its utopian milieu assembles the mood that allows her to deliberate on the opportunities that complicity can provide to assure the perfectibility of her tragedy.
In spinning the desirous into the political, and perhaps a queer science into politics itself, against, of course, the duress of heteronormative discourses, Vincent Sandoval’s Señorita (2011) dares to be compared to Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992). The intimate struggle of the Irish Republican Army within late imperial British history should be an awkward equivalent to the histrionic micropolitics of the contemporary electorate in postcolonial Philippines, but Sofia is pivotal in Sandoval’s text as Dil is indispensable to Jordan’s treatise. Both characters lay bare the devices which make the interstices of power work out and break down, in various guises of efficacy and disrepair. Jaye Davidson’s portrayal of the transgender Dil remains one of the most persuasive acting of queer melancholia, but Vincent Sandoval’s Donna/Sofia can be argued to have even surpassed that forlorn epitome in his valiant equipoise to contravene the torque of tactic and even brandish potency in a moment of powerlessness through the most refined ministrations of a grotesque image that has triumphed as beauty.
Such affect is not exactly the stuff that facilitates the expression of terms of endearment for the feminine fatale yearning to be addressed lovingly by the constituents of an always already failed democratic polity, but the melodramatic method summons the affectations and mannerisms of the foremost dowager of our erstwhile autocracy.
Call the maneuver daring, if not altogether desperate, in a productive sense, but Señorita‘s diminutive discourse does argue a case for a queer promise within national allegory. The mode is often perceived through its amplifying procedure, in its capacity to reference everything else that is excised from the surface and core of narrative, but the more ostensible present of the allegorical, as far as our “queer phenomenology,” pace Sarah Ahmed, is concerned, discloses the total world of violence through the fragile pieces of a fairly honorable villainy and a fairly honorific victimage. Contemporary cinema should find in Vincent Sandoval a cause célèbre. His chamber work has demonstrated the diminution of doom in the flamboyant demeanor of an operatic possibility.