Fine performances allied to solid cinematic technique make "Prosti" an unexpected pleasure in generic territory. Story of a cynical pimp who finds true love via a college student-cum-hooker, this is way above the normal level of Filipino pics devoted to life's sexy underbelly, and marks director Erik Matti as a name to watch.

Fine performances — largely built through workshop improvisations — allied to solid cinematic technique make “Prosti” an unexpected pleasure in generic territory. Story of a cynical pimp who finds true love via a college student-cum-hooker, this is way above the normal level of Filipino pics devoted to life’s sexy underbelly, and marks director Erik Matti (“Scorpio Nights 2″) as a name to watch. Given its saucy subject and good production values, some limited theatrical business is not out of the question for this sixth feature by Matti, prior to ancillary.

Story is partly seen through the eyes of Big Nonoy (Jay Manalo), a rickshaw driver who looks after the girls at the whorehouse of Mama Xedes (Racquel Villavicencio), a big broad with an eye patch. As Nonoy sizes up the talent in the street, accompanied by some graphic voiceover (“Pussy everywhere. Pussy to make a profit from”), a new recruit Ditas Bernadas (Aubrey Miles), a teenage schoolgirl sent by her aunt to help pay for her education, is on her way to Mama’s.

Taking the professional name Melody, Ditas is introduced to the mechanics of working in an upscale brothel in an assembly of short scenes and vignettes — some humorous, others more business-like — that occupy the next few reels. Given the basically repetitious subject matter, helmer Matti varies the pacing and mood with montages, slo-mo, dreamy sequences and speeded-up sections, with music to match. Technically, pic is smooth, lensed with care (if not always beauty) in the cramped quarters of the whorehouse, where the women spend all their time, with saturated colors and restrained camera movements.

Ditas, however, is only a part-time resident: at school, she easily fends off the attentions of Andrew (Troy Gomez), a 17-year-old who fancies her. From starting as a shy but confidant virgin, Ditas turns into an assured but totally cynical young woman — at the same time as the hard-bitten, money-obsessed Nonoy falls slowly but hopelessly in love with her. When Mama transfers Ditas to the care of another guy, Bong (Paulo Rivero), Nonoy turns jealous and is kicked out, with dramatic results.

Miles’ double-headed portrait of Ditas, as the hard brothel tart and neatly composed schoolgirl, is well done, even though it’s a purely cinematic confection, and she soon overshadows Manalo in their scenes together. Later plot developments are equally filmy, though Matti keeps a pretty tight lid on the melodrama and ends on a nicely cynical note that parallels the opening. Midsection of the pic is filled out with some nice developments of other girls’ stories, especially that of Amy (Pinky Amador), whose young son works at the brothel and who eventually marries one of her regulars (Froilan Sales).

Sex scenes aren’t coy, but visually the film is soft-core at most.

Prosti

Philippines

Production

A Regal Entertainment production. (International sales: Regal, Manila.) Executive producer, Lily Y. Monteverde. Directed by Erik Matti. Screenplay, Roy Iglesias; story, Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez.

Crew

Camera (color), J.A. Tadena; editor, Vito Cajili; music, Jobin Ballesteros; production designer, Adrian Torres; art director, Richard Somes; costume designer, Bill Gustilo; sound, Arnold Reodica; assistant director, Charry "CJ" Castinlag. Reviewed on videocassette, London, June 29, 2003. (In Far East Film Festival, Udine, Italy; also in Toronto Film Festival, Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast

With: Jay Manalo, Aubrey Miles, Racquel Villavicencio, Pinky Amador, Hazel Espinosa, Paulo Rivero, Lynie Lim, Dez De Vera, Lalaine Enriquez, Lalaine Degala, April Abelarde, Olive Gloria, Kimberly Nash, Froilan Sales, Troy Gomez.

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