Review: ‘Miguel/Michelle’

Another entry in the lively genre of Third World sex-change melodramas, "Miguel/Michelle" is a bright, humanist plea for tolerance for the transgendered , especially those with great wardrobes. While its upbeat earnestness will surely have some auds cackling in places the filmmakers didn't intend, pic's sweet temper and entertaining ingenuousness are sure to win converts at international fests, particularly the gay- or Asian-themed.

Another entry in the lively genre of Third World sex-change melodramas, “Miguel/Michelle” is a bright, humanist plea for tolerance for the transgendered , especially those with great wardrobes. While its upbeat earnestness will surely have some auds cackling in places the filmmakers didn’t intend, pic’s sweet temper and entertaining ingenuousness are sure to win converts at international fests, particularly the gay- or Asian-themed.

Miguel (Romnick Sarmenta) is a strapping, optimistic Philippine lad when his family sees him offto the U.S. in the opening scene, bidding him to make lots of money and find a blond girl to marry.

When he returns a few years later, though, the clan is in for a shock: The glamorous gal he’s brought home is himself, created by surgery and cosmetics and renamed Michelle.

Still retaining the pleasant, cheerful personality of her former self, the returning daughter wants only to be accepted by her family, friends and neighbors. Naturally, that’s easier requested than attained.

Not only does Michelle elicit stony rejection from her stunned father, as well as hostility from the local machos, but her presence unnerves other characters for different reasons. One former pal, for example, is about to cave into expectations and get married without telling his fiancee he’s gay; Michelle throws him into crisis just by showing up.

That pic seemingly regards homosexuality and a male’s desire for a sex change as synonymous is, to say the least, curious. Same goes for the fact that Michelle’s hormone treatments seem not to be working: Actor Sarmenta, who gives an engaging performance throughout, is clearly as muscular and fit as an athlete underneath his chic dresses, which makes Michelle’s femininity more a conceit than a convincing reality.

The movie’s most fabulous assets are, indeed, those dresses, which prove amazingly abundant. In each scene Michelle has a dazzling new outfit, leaving the viewer to wonder how much of the town’s poverty could be eliminated with the liquidation of a fraction of this stunning wardrobe.

Pic’s genial, positive message, however, comes through loud and clear. And though helmer Gil M. Portes’ pacing may be a tad monotonous, he does a workmanlike job combining pic’s colorful look with solid perfs and able technical execution.

Miguel/Michelle

(DRAMA -- FILIPINO)

Production

A Forefront Films production. (International sales: Forefront Films, Makati City, Philippines.) Produced by Sisenando Singson, Roberto Castro Jr., Jose Cura , Manny Tirona. Directed by Gil M. Portes. Screenplay, Ricardo Lee.

Crew

Camera (color), Mariel Cruz; editor, George Jarlego; music, Joy Marfil; production designer, Tanny Cruz; sound, Vic Manamay. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Cinema of Today), Aug. 28, 1998. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Miguel/Michelle ..... Romnick Sarmenta Tinang ..... Gloria Diaz Nano ..... Ray Ventura Julio ..... Cris Villanueva Sonia ..... Mylene Dizon Fr. Rav ..... Gandong Cervantes
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