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Constellating Romance

11 Nov

Christian Jil Benitez

Still from The Boy Foretold by the Stars (2020) trailer.

Dolly Dulu’s The Boy Foretold by the Stars (2020) serendipitously arrived at the time when the boys love (BL) phenomenon has just reached its peak in the country. Granted, of course, that in the history of Philippine cinema, queer coming-of-age romance has already been seen before, what the “first BL movie” on the Metro Manila Film Festival significantly introduces to such genre is the possibility of effervescence for its represented subjectivities. 

The film revolves around Dominic (Andrian Lindayag) and Luke (Keann Johnson), students in an all-boys Catholic school who—of course—happen to fall in love. That they do so is only expected, natural even, keeping in mind that the film, after all, asserts itself as a BL movie: with such conscious self-identification, one could even already prophesize (and accurately so) that the film ends with the two boys happy together. And so, what remains to be seen is how such vision will be manifested, that is, how queer love will be ultimately preserved in the BL universe.   

After seeking the counsel of the cheeky fortune teller Baby R (Iyah Mina), famous for her “accuracy of 99.5% in predicting soulmates,” three signs were given to Dominic through which he would finally know his destined lover—and in turn, to us audience ourselves, through which the beheld character Dominic would eventually realize that it is Luke who is destined for him. In this sense, the gesture of foretelling in the diegesis operates at least twofold: first, as provision of wisdom toward the auspicious, particularly for the queer subject within the film, who has been often shunned in the patriarchal society—the parochial school within the film included—as “the Fool”; and second, and more crucially, as a subtle structuration of the film itself that already foreshadows for the viewer the events that are to come. Thus, not only was a boy—Luke—foretold by the stars, but even the very entirety of the film, through itself, was also made foreseen. 

Still from The Boy Foretold by the Stars (2020) trailer.

Fate as a prospect for understanding—and even predicting—the aleatory bare life relies for the most part on its hospitality to things: it conjures a narrative capable of accommodating any instance, constellating each as to become meaningful to the grand design being construed. This way, things previously seen as merely mundane—say, a traditional school activity, a face usually encountered in the hallway, or a current favorite song supposed to simply fade in time—are thus implicated now in a perceived significance, no matter how such is occluded at the moment (for time is bound to reveal all things in the end anyway). It is then in this thaumaturgic faith on destiny that the chaotic is effectively transfigured as the cosmic—universal, indeed, with its most orderly and singular scheme.

This modus can be translated to the language of pop culture as the formula, or that manner of constellating turns that is most familiar because already repeated since time immemorial. In the case of The Boy Foretold by the Stars, however, such fatalist method is rehearsed well beyond the narrative, extending to its own materiality as a film indeed. This is certainly manifested through the aforementioned shrewd self-reflexive prophesizing of the film, but perhaps more critically so in its forthright claim as a “BL” film—a timely, and thus trendy, identification that conveniently renders it most immediate, if not entirely novel, as a work that deliberately separates itself from the often cynic or self-deprecating queer romances or their oversaturated and regularly bland heteronormative counterparts. In other words, the film aligns itself with, and effectually takes as a part of its very form, the incidental constellation that is “queering the quarantine” of the past year, and in doing so, ultimately suggests its own fatedness to Philippine cinema and Asian BL wave by and large.

Still from The Boy Foretold by the Stars (2020) trailer.

The fact that this is Dulu’s first full-length feature, and Dominic and Luke were Lindayag’s and Johnson’s respective first major roles in a film only complement the myth; that the film managed to take home few accolades from MMFF, Gawad Urian, and the 31st YCC Citations further particularizes such myth—as that of an upcoming potential, a certain futurity. It then becomes no wonder that few months after the commercial run of the film, Dreamscape Entertainment, a division of ABS-CBN, enlisted Dulu to create the sequel web mini-series Love Beneath the Stars, which picks up right after the film and introduces complications to Dominic and Luke’s budding relationship: their impending graduation, the growing pressure from their immediate surroundings, and the reappearance of Dominic’s old friend and implied former flame Gio (Vaughn Piczon). In this continuation, the narrative evidently attempts to expand itself, exploring each of the boys’ domestic relations as well as their own fears of what is to come. However, the endeavor proves too novelistic in scope that many things were left wanting for further treatment—a favorable predicament, if anything, as it only demonstrates the generative potency of the universe that Dulu has let emerged from their film.

For at the end of The Boy Foretold by the Stars, it is this very possibility for further creation that is ultimately left open. The film concludes with Dominic and Luke finally reuniting after what is in fact a destined detour: Luke, only being recently realizing of his own queerness, had to come to terms with it, foremostly through settling the hanging matters with his ex-girlfriend Karen (Rissey Reyes). At the final moment, alone together in the field where they first talked profoundly, Luke wagers to a coin toss on what must come next for him and Dominic—heads for being “who knows? maybe… destined for each other,” and tails for “maybe… the end”—only for him to deliberately ignore the coin’s omen for farewell, and instead say, “No… fuck it”; he then chooses to kiss Dominic. Music stars playing, and the screen fades to black: the film, says itself, could not possibly foretell now what must lie ahead. 

Still from The Boy Foretold by the Stars (2020) trailer.

Such ending can be figured, of course, as an insistence on queer futurity—that “queerness,” echoing José Esteban Muñoz, “is not yet here,” as in this very film—and thus, can effect as a counterpoint to the self-conscious predetermination of the film, and a critique to the constellation by and large of romance itself. However, it also bears emphasizing that the film also concludes where it is most expedient: right at another beginning, an inversion perhaps of the heteronormative happily-ever-after, leaving out the possible worldly intrusions to their bond. In this way, the film essentially encloses itself, as ultimately intimated in a minute deviation in Luke’s methodology that only betrays his seeming resistance against fate: for while he was previously seen to habitually toss the coin, catch it with a hand, and land it on his other arm before seeing its outcome, the last instance had him skipping the last crucial step—and therefore revealing the reverse side of the coin that is supposed to be turned over for one last time. In other words, the two were indeed meant to be together in the end: there was no defiance in their punctuating kiss—of course, says the universe, they had to kiss.  

However, this self-enclosement—perhaps another form of closeting—of the queer narrative—as if in a snow-globe, or in this case, more appropriately, a crystal ball—queerly demands itself—as queerness itself must also demand it so—to be taken as a Brechtian urging; Dulu, after all, is a playwright themself, with the film being originally written as a play titled “Hangal” (lit. “Fool”). It is also here that the distinct traces of the urtextual theater—the use and style of music, for instance, or the animated banter between Dominic and his friends Timmy (John Leinard Ramos) and Miguel (Jan Rey Escaño), and even with Mr. Oyco (Jethro Niño Tenorio), all of which were played by theater actors—can be recast to a more productive understanding: as material signs pointing to the incredulity that the film must also evoke to the viewer. For romance here, its potency as an imagination of tenderness, becomes an ironic mode of constellating things, if only to reveal an urgent and necessary truth: how long has it been, and why stories such as Dominic and Luke’s are only being lately told—two boys falling in love, which is only expected, natural even; I mean, mathematically speaking, what else is supposed to happen in an all-boys school?

 
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Posted by on 11 November 2021 in 2020 Citations, Film Review

 

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