Skilty C. Labastilla
Si Chedeng at si Apple, the first feature of Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada, is a rambunctious romp that follows two ladies taking a road trip of emancipation as they flee from the law, yes, but more from the shackles of patriarchy.
Chedeng (Gloria Diaz), a closet lesbian mother living unhappily in Manila, decides to go to Cebu Province to find the one that got away after her husband dies. She leaves behind three grown sons and takes with her her simple-minded best friend Apple (Elizabeth Oropesa), who also has a reason to flee the capital. You see, Apple has suffered years of physical and emotional abuse by her live-in partner. In one of these episodes of abuse, she kills her lover in an act of self-defense, and she and Chedeng conspire to dispose of the body, except for the severed head, which Apple believes should be carried, according to Santa Muerte tradition, to prevent the possibility of her wicked lover’s reincarnation. What ensues is 80 minutes of almost non-stop hilarity as the women travel by boat, then by bus, to track Lydia, Chedeng’s long-lost love in rural Cebu, all the while carrying a human head in a Louis Vuitton handbag.
Still photo courtesy of Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada
If Tabada took inspiration from the American road comedy Little Miss Sunshine in co-writing last year’s hysterical Patay Na si Hesus, he looked to an even more iconic American film, Thelma and Louise, for inspiration in coming up with Si Chedeng at si Apple. Both films center on two female best friends who are either abused by their male partners or are generally unsatisfied with their lives, find themselves on the run from authorities, hook up with young studs along the way, and realize in the end that the few years they have left in the world are better spent pursuing their heart’s desires rather than kowtowing to society’s expectations of women.
Si Chedeng at si Apple, however, is far from being a Hollywood copycat as it transcends its source material with a distinct Pinoy, particularly Cebuano, humor. Buoyed by the delicious performances of screen veterans Elizabeth Oropesa and Gloria Diaz, the film is deeply, tenaciously, bravely feminist. It has the audacity to feature not just two women as the key protagonists, but two elderly women at that! Making one of the lead characters a lesbian searching for the love of her life is a conscious act of rejection of heteronormative romance so commonly produced and consumed in these parts. Tabada is also wise to partner with a female filmmaker, Rae Red, in directing his story, as the film surely benefited from her perspective.
When future cultural commentators look back to today, they will note the rise of the #MeToo and #BabaeAko movements, and the Chedeng filmmakers should be proud of coming up with a film that, even if it pre-dates these cultural movements, perfectly captures the sentiments of the new generation regarding the evil of sexual abuse and harassment of women, as well as the beauty of respecting different sexualities and identities.