By Heinrich Domingo
In a far-flung barrio, there lived a transgender woman whose life changed after being crowned as Miss Bulalacao. But being a beauty queen was just the beginning of her colorful life. She was impregnated by an unseen entity, discovered that she was born with a penis-looking vagina, and that she performs miracles like the Virgin Mary. The whole village was astounded. They couldn’t believe that the ridiculed Miss Bulalacao might actually give birth to their ‘savior.’
Filipinos are not new to myths and mysteries. We have a multitude of movies based on characters whose power came from the unseen (Panday and Darna). Miss Bulalacao brings these mysteries and magic in a 21st century crowd. Its story intersperses folk lore and scientific advancement. Such style is reminiscent to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism. His stories are set in an isolated poor community whose people’s lives center on Catholicism. Whether used deliberately as an inspiration or not, the film was equally effective.
The blurring of magic and reality allures the crowd. It keeps their imagination wandering while looking into the realities of many Philippine rural areas. The Barrio Bulalacao is presented to be an actual place where magic and reality coincide. This made the characters so familiar. Here, we meet hypocrite fathers who denounce their gay sons but proudly commit adultery, gossiping neighbors who exult you when you succeed but help bury you when you fail, and church workers who pretend to be good fellows but rob you of the things most important from you.
Miss Bulalacao acts as a commentary on Filipino society and how our culture sometimes impedes progress and development. It scrutinizes the many bad habits that “pakikipag-kapwa” (community belongingness) entails. Too much importance on family ties, religiosity, and meddling with neighbors’ affairs stops people from efficiently doing their tasks and achieving their goals. The movie’s criticisms are translated into humor and sarcasm. Although many of the spiels are ineffective, it was still able to impart its intended message.
The film’s understanding on the local culture of Biliran is manifested in its soundtrack, cinematography, and production design. Viewers who are familiar with the land that merges Waray and Cebuano would feel nostalgic on the landscape shots, seaside backdrop, and curacha dances. The production team’s intensive research sufficiently showed these elements on the big screen.
The ambitious plot seems to pose a great challenge to the cast. Many of the actors and actresses weren’t able to fulfill their roles. This resulted in a failed delivery of jokes and lines. Also, the musical scoring and cinematography have a lot of room for improvement. Miss Bulalacao in many instances looks and feels too amateurish.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, Director Ara Chawdhury showed a deep understanding on gender discourse, maternal healthcare, and rural poverty. Through her lens, the viewers were able to catch minute but powerful glimpses of what is really happening in the grassroots.