Born Beautiful: The Caprices of Identity


photo from UP Film Institute

EVERY PERSON in the world possesses beauty and it is imperative that society respects the innate pulchritude that each individual holds; yet, there are also other kinds of aesthetics that different kinds of people appreciate.

Some forms of beauty are peculiar and may seem uncanny to the scrutinizing eye. One of the biggest challenges in the life of those who possess a unique kind of beauty is to find the acceptance of the people around them—and sometimes, to have the courage to love and accept themselves.

Directed by Perci Intalan, Born Beautiful is a film that attempts to manifest the life of a homosexual man in the Philippines. The film showcases not only the stereotypes that are more often than not forced upon the Filipino gay, but also the struggles of homosexuals when it comes to issues such as acceptance in society, prejudices against gay men who dress in drag, the branding of gayness as a sin punishable by God, as well as their intrapersonal conflict with self-identity.

The film stars Martin del Rosario as Barbs or Bobby, a gay man who lost his best friend Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros) prior to the film. The conflict of the story lies with Barbs as he has a fragile sense of identity because he proclaims that he does not like the way that he looks. Equipped with heavy makeup, a wig, and women’s clothing and jewelry, he offers an empathetic stance toward those who are in the denial stage of their gender and orientation.

A beauty that the film possesses is its ability to stir equivocal emotions due to the binary portrayal of the Filipino gay man.

On one hand, it lackadaisically represents gays through stereotypes that were depicted in scenes where they were making absurd, low-brow jokes; the fact that Barbs and his friends work at a makeup parlor that gives corpses a makeover; and how gays fall in love with married men and serve as financial support.

At the same time, however, the film gives justice to the hurdles of being a gay man in the country. Barbs’s character struggles with his identity because of the prejudices enforced by the locus he inhabits and the norms of the people he interacts with. This can be seen through his struggle with his ex-boyfriend Gregory, who thinks that gay men are inferior and should be thankful that there are straight males who put up with them, as well as his experience in the chapel of the dubious pseudo-religious organization “Way to the Light” that forces him to return to heterosexuality.

The cinematography of the film is not of high caliber due to the lighting effects that were inaccurate during times of tension, such as when Barbs decides to become heterosexual once again. The camera angling was also off at times, which gave less attention to the emotions and expressions of characters, which could have given better moods for the film.

In contrast, the characterization is true to life, with the cast seemingly effortless in acting out their roles as they lay out the circumstances often faced by gay men.

Overall, the film is arguably unremarkable because of the dull cinematography and use of tropes that have become common among gay films. However, it cannot be denied that the film allows the viewers to peer into the tribulations that homosexuals experience every day. Born Beautiful is a step in the right direction when it comes to portraying gay men, as it is a testament to the evolution of gay films that feign a quintessential image of their unique identity and their peculiar kind of beauty. F

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