First, a disclaimer. Josabeth “Joji” Alonso, the executive producer of Babagwa (The Spider’s Lair), is my batchmate from U.P. Law. She asked me to help spread the word about the film (a Cinemalaya 2013 entry, and currently on a regular run in Metro Manila), I told her quite honestly that the thought of going through traffic to go to a movie house was not really my idea of fun so I was given access to a private copy of the film. That’s how I got the screenshot. Not that any of that is really all that relevant. Joji knows me well enough and she knows that I won’t call a film beautiful if I found it ugly — not even for a friend.
That said, I’ll cut to the chase and state right here at the beginning that Babagwa is hilariously outrageous. No, not slapstick hilarious. There aren’t even any punchlines. It’s more like a noooo, people can’t be that stupid kind of hilarious. Incredulous yet believably real, and it will probably strike a raw nerve because it touches on what is arguably today’s biggest online obsession and guilty pleasure — Facebook. Okay, maybe next to porn?
Greg (Alex Medina) is an impoverished young man who goes online on Facebook as Bam Bonifacio, a wealthy ex-model and professional bum. He befriends strangers and wins them over by flirting and hints of possible face-to-face meeting and eventual romance. He doesn’t discriminate with gender — he can be gay or straight depending on the sexual orientation of his Facebook friend. When the time is right, he tells his Facebook friend that he is in a bind, needs cash immediately and requests that money be deposited in an account in Olongapo.
The idea isn’t Greg’s but Marney’s (Joey Paras), his gay friend and sometime handler. Marney fabricated a detailed web of deception that revolves around fake Facebook accounts and multiple disposable SIM cards. The third partner is Lisa who owns the bank account where the victims deposit the money. Unlike Marney who is employed as a make-up artist in modelling gigs, Greg has no source of income other than his 20 percent share in the Facebook scam.
The ruse works without a hitch, and the victims had been many, until Greg befriends Daisy (Alma Concepcion), a wealthy matron who likes to pour her money on charitable causes. Enamoured with Daisy whom he finds kind and elegant, Greg suddenly becomes hesitant in making her his next victim. I won’t go beyond that because you really have to see how it plays out. The ending is so mind-blowing funny, tragic and sad all at the same time.
I don’t often watch local films. They’re too formulaic. The last one I saw was The Other Woman and although Anne Curtis’ performance is laudable for the most part, the story itself still reeks of escapism where the audience is led into the world of the ultra rich and their enviable lifestyles. Interior-decorated houses, flashy cars, designer clothes…
Babagwa has none of that. It is about poor people dreaming up rackets to pay their bills. But unlike other films about poor people, Babagwa‘s characters are not portrayed as victims. None of that rich-exploiting-the-poor angle where the destitute hero or heroine rises from rags to riches and takes revenge on the wealthy bitches and bastards that have wronged him or her. It’s quite an exhilarating experience to see a film set in squalor where the audience is not emotionally bulldozed into unleashing pity and tears.
On the technical side, Babagwa could have been better. Some scenes were overly long (there were dead silences in some scenes), some shots were too wide and some close-ups too drawn-out. The pace could have been a little faster too. But overall? Go see it and fall in love with indie films if you haven’t yet.
P.S. Babagwa is not for children. Some nudity and profanity.