BIG BOY (Shireen Seno, 2011)
At the center of BIG BOY, Shireen Seno's dazzling feature debut is the story of a young boy facing the pains and pressures of growing up, circa 1945 in post- war Mindoro. Amidst all the symbolism, surrealism, and variation of experimental techniques, Seno achieves to recreate a memory of her father's stories with enough tenderness for her subject.
Seno makes good use of literary devices to mirror her story's theme: the young boy, Julio is forced to drink a concoction of cod liver oil devised by his parents, in order to force him to grow taller; his limbs are then pulled in opposite direction, and made to stand under the sun. These are done so his parents can sell the concoction, and have him as a success story. Metaphorically speaking, this visual image of Julio being forced to grow taller, is a way of saying that Julio is also forced to grow up, emotionally.
His parents has six children, and two of his siblings are given to his aunts because of poverty. His father hunts for food, while his mother stays at home to tend to household chores. This scenario pains young Julio, and so he volunteers to sell Empanadas in order to add income to the family. His ultimate, immediate goal is to get back his siblings from his aunts.
Throughout the film, the pain of innocence lost and childhood shattered echoes through. In order to make us feel how painful Julio must be feeling, Seno displays happy images of children playing, or goofing around, then we see Julio sitting in a corner, refusing to join in the merriment. We follow as he sells empanada to students, or to teenagers playing pool. The action seems routinary, as if "a day in the life of" and yet the message is vividly strong.
There is a playfulness in the sound; at times you hear chatter totally unrelated to what's going on in the scene. Then at some point there's a musical score but the characters continue with their inaudible dialogue, in subtitles. For most part, there's just no audio at all. Seno wants us to just observe what's going on in the scene.
BIG BOY is not for everyone. It is not an easy watch, but when you dissect its parts, the result promises to be rewarding. Seno is a brave filmmaker, and I am looking forward to more of her films.