Atmosphere trumps character development in Brillante Mendoza’s debut feature “The Masseur,” co-winner of Locarno’s video competish. Largely set in an all-male massage parlor/brothel, pic contrasts the sexual ambivalence within its flimsy walls with a masseur’s family life in the provinces. But constant time shifts are clumsily handled, and the dramatic arc, meant to circle around on itself, ends up going nowhere. With visuals lacking the sensuality of “Midnight Dancers” and its ilk, pic’s adorable star can only go so far in bringing in biz beyond targeted fests.
Accommodating charmer Iliac (Coco Martin) journeys to the family home to bury his father. He approaches his duties with mixed emotions, more concerned with supporting his mother (Jaclyn Jose) than grieving for a deadbeat dad. Helmer Mendoza intercuts these scenes with the previous evening at the massage parlor, where Iliac presses the flesh of a new client (Alan Paule, from the superior “Macho Dancer”). Nice matching shots of Iliac undressing his father’s corpse and undressing his client fail to make a statement. The weak script leaves characters like Iliac’s preposterously trashy g.f. (Katherine Luna) underwritten. Vid quality is mixed, with occasional sound problems.