Baka Bukas tells the story of Alex (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), a twenty-three year old creative who happens to be gay. The fact that she is lesbian is known to most of the people around her, but not her aspiring artista best friend Jess (Louise de los Reyes). The story really starts when Jess accidentally discovers Alex’s sexual orientation. After the initial shock of finding out that her best friend hasn’t been completely honest with her for the last few years, Jess eventually comes to accept this new status quo. And then the two of them have a go at taking their friendship to a different level.The strongest insight that this movie has to offer is that coming out isn’t a singular event. A gay person doesn’t just get to announce it once and never have to deal with it again. The film is fueled on this tension, this young woman at the center of this narrative having to live and relive the challenges of the proverbial closet. The movie is at its best when it concentrates on this struggle, revealing a very specific, personal pain that would otherwise be invisible to the public at large.Unfortunately, the movie gets caught up in other things. The romance that ends up running the plot is a non-starter. Even as it serves as the catalyst for some of bigger emotional developments of this story, the romance itself never quite evokes the feelings that it needs to. It might just be that it’s too tame, or that there is a disconnect between the leads. Whatever the case, one just gets the sense that there is a glaring lack of verisimilitude in the depiction of this relationship, and that makes it hard to invest in their ups and downs.The film disproportionately invests in the accurate depiction of a particular scene among the Manila youth. There is a real effort to reflect a certain class of the hip and the young, with some of the characters seemingly based on real figures from the scene. And this doesn’t really help the movie, either. These scenes make Alex part of a crowd of people that aren’t particularly likeable. It does the character harm to be associated with the general bad behavior and attitude of her friends. The film gets a lot out of the main character’s general passivity, but her willingness to put up with the awfulness of her supposed friends becomes another obstacle to investing in the film’s central relationship.The production is a mixed bag. There is a marked awkwardness to the direction at points, the film often lapsing into gimmicky tricks that don’t really help the emotions along. On the plus side, the production design really helps this world come alive, and the sound design keeps things clear. The film’s biggest asset, though, is its star Jasmine Curtis-Smith. Much of what Alex is going through goes unsaid, and the actress has to convey a lot without saying anything at all. The film’s themes really comes through in Curtis-Smith’s performance, her weary countenance often telling the story of a person who’s already resigned herself to the disappointments inherent to a life in a world that isn’t fully ready for who she is.Baka Bukas doesn’t really work as a whole, but there are moments that are genuinely affecting. In general, the film just works better the more personal it gets, the deeper it delves into the psychology of its main character and her relationship with the world at large. With a great lead performance, the film just benefits from having a narrower focus. When it veers away from that, when it becomes about the other characters and the world at large, the film just doesn’t feel as strong. There is real value in what comes out of this film, but the journey there is a lot rougher than it needs to be.
BAKA BUKAS OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON MARCH 1.