The latest dramatic travelogue from the Philippines rides atop of the fascinating, spotted shark-whales (butandings) that visit the coastal waters of Donsol to feast and mate annually between January and October. They are a big draw for tourists.
Unfortunately, director/writer/producer Adolfo Alix Jr. can’t find any magic in the underwater sequences (especially compared with Sharkwater, which set a new standard at last year’s festival—cross-reference below). His script has as many holes as the fishing nets, but—like them—does manage to land the odd gem.
Add to that some edits that defy continuity much less the storyline (e.g., after the love interest walks away from potential boyfriend—she to go the short distance home, he to brood until sunrise—we cut to the farewell couple walking and talking as if the previous shot never happened).
So why invest time and money and take in this flick? Two words: Sid Lucero. Playing Daniel, the amiable butanding guide, Lucero (even when overly made-up) fills the screen with his charming visage, well-proportioned torso and a nicely defined butt that will capture and keep the interest of either sex. He delivers his predictable lines with just the right amount of boyish fun (“We call it ‘Welcome Swim,’” he beams to every group of whale watchers as they head overboard, into the deep) and pensive woe-is-I as we follow him in and out of relationships with the fickle guests, even as he learns from a local smitten teen that “It’s [love] nothing to do with age.” Luckily, she’s about to move to Cebu.
Daniel’s fellow boaters include Tetay (Kenneth Ocampo) Donsol’s resident Queen of the Ocean whose outrageous demeanour and double engagement to Jürgen (see editing, above) at least adds some gay moments to a largely angst-filled atmosphere. Senior hand, Nog (Simon Ibarra) provides comic relief as an ever-ready partier/diddler who tells his short-term guests/dates that he’s single—and soon will be if his long-suffering wife ever catches him with his wayward rudder in the wrong port-of-call.
Early on we meet Mars (Cherie Gil) a sometime journalist whose current assignment involves a visit to Donsol, including a key interview with a former acquaintance who, it turns out, has been dead for a year (so much for professional research standards). Her constant companion is Teresa (the aptly named Angel Aquino, whose scenes with Lucero work well visually). She’s returned to Donsol to discover whether she’s “moved on” from her much-older husband’s “accident” while pursuing a shark whale with his ever-present camera. Difficult as that is, the young widow also has Stage 4 breast cancer—incredibly, getting personal phone calls from her doctor to remind Teresa of the next appointment. Clearly, her health-care system is miles ahead of the rest of the planet.
Naturally (in the truest sense of the word) Teresa and Daniel fall head-over-heels for each other and in a most convincing fashion. Then, after a few awkward “adieus” (following sensitively filmed and sequenced days of exploring the region—memorably the waterfall), Daniel makes his move only to be repelled when his eager hands reach for a breast and come up empty. Suddenly, he loses everyone’s respect as he cowardly (completely out of character to date) runs away from the woman who has snared his heart, mind and soul. That plays as unbelievably false as the callous lover not knowing that a cameraman filming his beloved butandings while on the job barely a year ago perished in the attempt.
While Teresa’s courageous return to Donsol ignites more memories and feelings than she can overcome, it also proves once again that “you can never go back,” Alix would be well-advised to adopt “you can always go back” as his mantra when it comes to plot, character development and logical flow of what could have been a marvellous film. The endangered butandings deserve nothing less. JWR