Auraeus Solito departs from the Filipino urban jungle of his lauded debut “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” and explores life in the wilder jungle of “Tuli,” in which a strong-willed daughter upsets every arrangement her alcoholic father tries to impose on her. With dad being the village’s official circumciser, and daughter Daisy expected to follow in his footsteps, pic sets up a heady brew of daring sexuality and ancient rituals that broadens Solito’s reach as a developing film artist. Though pic has been banned locally, Berlin and other major fests beckon, setting up potential arthouse and vid action.
Striking opening shows Ka Malteng (a mercurial Bembol Roco) enacting a circumcision ritual with four boys, assisted by Daisy (Desiree del Valle). The very fact that a girl is involved in such a powerfully intimate act with boys her own age places the film in decidedly interesting socio-sexual territory.
Pic invisibly shifts forward several years to when Daisy is of marrying age, and though the circumcised lads romantically serenade her outside her window, Daisy’s heart is for g.f. Botchok (Vanna Garcia).
Far more extensively than in “Maximo Oliveros” and its characterization of young gay love, Solito and screenwriter Jimmy Flores depict the intimate emotional exchanges between two women. The bravery of their love seems heightened by their living in a traditional village — whose Christmastime rites include an elaborate Passion play blended with ancient indigenous customs — and having to stay under the same roof as Daisy’s folks.
The “Jesus” of the Passion play, Nanding (Carlo Aquino), is also pointedly different: He’s the only guy in town who’s uncircumcised, and thus not exactly on the perpetually drunk and angry Ka Malteng’s list of favorites. Like a subtle shift in the seasons, Nanding forms a furtive but real love triangle with Daisy and Botchok, further complicating sexual boundaries and linking this with spiritual rituals of sacrifice and renewal.
The film’s sustained silences and shifts from the everyday to the mystical, along with the vividly tropical color scheme, project a strong sense of being in the jungle, though HD (shown in direct-vid projection at Sundance) may not be the ideal format for such an entrancing state of mind. Perfs, as in “Maximo Oliveros,” are fairly raw but likable.