Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya

Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (known in English as The Man in Her Life) is an examination of human nature, and it questions the very meaning of what it means to be in love. Pretty deep stuff for a Filipino movie, and this one does at least emerge as a solid effort.

It's the story of Ramon, a school principal, and Selya, a young teacher abandoned by her lover Bobby. The two are set together by Ramon's caretaker Nana Piling who believes that a man in his position should marry and procreate. Oh yeah, Ramon is gay-- but that don't have to get in the way, does it? His homosexuality is kept hidden from Selya, giving way to all sorts of misunderstandings, and the relationship is threatened by former lovers and social pressures. When Bobby unexpectedly returns, Selya must confront her own prejudices and choose who will be the man in her life.

The film is not so much a study of sexual orientation as it is of human accommodation. The characters are affected by a traditional society that pressures them, forcing them to make the best of the situation as they can.

When Selya marries Ramon it's not because she loves him, but she needs him. Her previous boyfriend Bobby, despite being irresistible, could not satisfy her. Bobby didn't a real meaningful relationship, didn't want marriage. When Selya looked at Ramon she saw companionship, sensitivity – in many ways the opposite of Bobby. Was this love? Perhaps not. But for Selya it was good enough.

Ramon married Selya for different reasons. Being the gay principal of a school, he was the subject of all sorts of gossip from his students, and the people of the village were equally as intolerant. His caretaker thought it best for a prominent person such as himself to be married and to have children. If there was anyone Ramon loved it was his gardener Carding. Surely he was aware that the bond with Selya wasn't love. But for Ramon it was good enough.

Obviously this isn't an ideal marriage, but they both provided something the other was looking for. In the end, Selya was forced to evaluate their relationship and decide between Bobby and Ramon.

The ending is presented as a happy one, but how can either decision really be happy... Selya was in love with Bobby when he left her, but when he returned she decided to stay with a man that she could never really love. Can you ever really justify that? I guess some people would put practicality over principle, but that's not me. Something to think about.

It's nice for once to have a Filipino movie that doesn't allow itself to be shaped by the mold. It didn't bow to political correctness, concentrating instead on the realities of their provincial life. Selya and Ramon are trapped in social conventions based on ignorance and hostility, and they choose to make the most of what they have.

Adapted from a May 2004 essay.

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