KALEL, 15: A Discourse Beyond a Taboo
Gigi Javier Alfonso
It starts with a long blur, inaudible conversation and a lingering hollow willowing sound like a one-note whistling prolonged stinger merged with a continuing hospital scene to the doctor’s clinic with a moment of fist punches from mother to son. Then he walks out as he puts on his hoody not wanting to be recognized, walking normally with his mother to be unnoticed blending with the crowd seamlessly taking the common route segued to a conversation in a bus. “Nakakahiya ka. Ano na lang ang sasabihin ng mga tao…” A brilliant opening scene by writer/director Jun Lana as he consistently commands the smooth flow of the narrative.
The conversation between mother and son moves on as it pushes to set aside the threat of unmanaged HIV that entered this dysfunctional but seemingly natural family’s everyday life. To mute this story is primary and to mute the shame pictured as commonplace shows the ignorance of how to address a creeping epidemic of its enormous hush-hushed nature.
It talks of discrimination that is perpetuated by an uncaring society, from the family to all the other institutions in our community. Does it talk about HIV beyond its HIV spots, the dark skin lesions and low T4 cells count indicating a weak body immune system? The film goes beyond the story of persons with HIV and the nature of this virus. It talks of an environment and institutions that seem to be missing the point of what and how we can traverse this journey of living in our world where there is so much inequity, poverty, hypocrisy, and injustice. A person with HIV is the epitome of the vulnerable, the marginalized and the misunderstood.
It is the story of Kalel, a young man who is adventurous, undecided, and confused seen in the choices he takes, groping through the strands of poverty of lack of accountability of young reckless passion, the mind and spirit lead by arrogance of ignorance within life’s tapestry enveloped in the constructed murky reality of people around him. The hopelessness felt by Kalel is resounding in this masterpiece of black, white with some shades of grey film by Jun Lana.
The film probes into a Kalel’s life where no one seems to genuinely care beyond self. Where he sees that people survival is achieved by simple moments of pleasure from alcohol, a semblance of repetitive ritual of repentance around, money used to lighten the burden of guilt, and the numbing ecstatic feel of drugs and sex. He is fathered by a priest, mothered by a man hungry woman, has a horny sister. It talks about interpretations of love, lust, danger, anger, and survival. A quick formula that will certainly lead him to an aimless and visionless way to pathetic destruction or to survive with resilience, ending up with a hard, vengeful, and calloused soul.
Have we heard of this before? Yes. But we certainly should be reminded of it with added insights through a more inquisitive lens and with a more provocative stance. And director Lana eloquently presents a crisp look with uncanny articulation of people’s frailty and weaknesses.
Elijah Canlas plays Kalel with outstanding sensitivity and restraint. A mature handling of a complex role. No hysterics but more of inner tension. Jaclyn Jose is as usual effective as the mother who wants a life of her own, quite outstanding in the family drinking bonding scene and consistently believable with effortless performance to push the narrative forward. Elora Espano convincingly plays the sister who cares for him but not enough to leave her boyfriend who constantly bullies him and who is deep into drugs. Eddie Garcia the father priest completes this family ensemble who is around to dole out quick fixes of cash and virgin coconut oil for Kalel’s HIV, creating a remarkable ensemble as the members of a destined break up. Young actress Gabby Padilla plays the girlfriend considered as collateral damage in the story.
Kalel, 15 starts with a blur surrounding HIV taboo through a mix of drama and humor almost satirical and sarcastic with shades of raw realism. It is a film that gets us thinking… brings us discomfort because of its irreverence and makes us ask questions about larger concepts such as hypocrisy, truth, and reality.
KALEL, 15 (2019) Direction and Screenplay: Jun Robles Lana. Editing: Benjamin Tolentino. Cinematography: Carlo Mendoza. Production Design: Maolen Fadul. Music: Teresa Barrozo. Sound: Alan Caro, Lamberto Casas Jr., Albert Michael Idioma. Cast: Elijah Canlas, Jaclyn Jose, Eddie Garcia, Lou Veloso, Elora Españo. Producers: Cignal Entertainment, The IdeaFirst Company. Black & White. Running Time: 1 h 45 mins.
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