a film by Brillante Mendoza
2005 | 80 mins | Philippines
›› The Masseur - Masahista
a sensuous journey into the raw reality of the sex trade
The Masseur by Brillante Mendoza Erotic imagery and bright neon lights can often mask the reality of an occupation infused with morals of a dubious nature and likewise, the art of the masseur can at times be a front for a profession as old as time itself.

For here screenwriter Boots Agbayani Pastor has sharpened his pencil on an original story by Ferdinand Lapuz, namely the tale of the day-to-day life of twenty-year-old Manila masseur Iliac, whose routine of shoulder kneading is put out of joint, when the impending death of his philandering father prompts a return visit home. And it is the stark contrast between the world of the erotic massage and the almost pure like quality of a devoted son that underpins this work, as the masseur of the title is the dutiful son of the piece, having long assumed the financial responsibilities of the head of the household, whose burial arrangements he must now oversee.

To that end, Filipino model Coco Martin delivers a natural sincerity to the part of Iliac and in particular to his relationship with returning client Alfredo; a writer of the romantic novel variety under a female pseudonym, but to keen-eyed film buffs Allan Paule from the noted male prostitution piece Macho Dancer. And like that work from 1988, this equally low budget feature vividly demonstrates the thin line between a legitimate trade, to that of providing bodily touch of an all the more intimate nature, in the hope of raising above the poverty level of a country dominated by income inequality.

The Masseur by Brillante Mendoza That said and as this work acutely details, sex for sale is but a part of life for many, as client after client can be found making their way to a series of small pigeonhole size cubicles nested side-by-side, each equipped with a single bed; home for some to the honourable profession of the masseur and for others, a spot of gentle massage that for the right price can become "anything you want Sir." Then again, the subject of male prostitution in all of its cinematic guises is nothing new. Indeed in terms of the Philippines, it would appear to be something of a recurring theme. Yet what is striking here, is the honesty that Mendoza delivers in detailing a trade that all too clearly is viewed differently from those paying for the service, to those providing it.

Sexy and sharp, this is also a work complete with a number of fragmented flashbacks, sequences that contrast life with death, freedom with responsibility and homoerotic intensity with the raw reality of the sex trade. Namely a cattle call industry where men, more like boys, sell their bodies to support themselves, let alone others. Yet perhaps the most telling aspect of this sensuous work, is that the heterosexual character of Iliac is seemingly more than willing to offer both professional and prostitutional services, being and like many in the business, gay for pay. Need more be said?

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - sexually sensuous. 
Overall - file under ... 3 stars. 

›› Available to buy from Amazon.com.

›› Available to buy from Amazon.co.uk.
available on DVD as part of the Peccadillo Pictures catalogue: 8.October.2007 / UK.
screened as part of The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival, 2006.
starring: Coco Martin, Jacklyn Jose, Allan Paule, Katherine Luna, Ru Miranda, Aaron Christian Rivera, Ronaldo Bertubin,
Arianne Camille Rivera, Josefina Punzalan, Jayson Colis, Randel Reyes, Paolo Rivero and Kristopher King.
Copyright 2008 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #144
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