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Gendering politics: ‘Walang Kasarian ang Digmang Bayan’

“It is not sexuality which haunts society but society which haunts the body’s sexuality.”—Maurice Godelier

IT is not easy to accept the premise of Jay Altarejos’s Walang Kasarian ang Digmang Bayan (translated as Revolution Knows No Gender). For the film is built on the discourse that revolution, which is clearly of the nationalist democratic form, has accepted all genders.

In this fixation on ideologies, we grovel in disbelief at the character of Paolo, not because he is framed within a society battling its government aimed at killing young and old people alike—all poor—but because he is fighting internal demons that do not have anything to do with the liberation of the collective or the greater society. It does not matter that he has a brave mother in rage. It does not even matter that the world where this young man lives has subsisted on distorted of notions of good and evil, or of a belief system that disfavors justice for all, where even boys are murdered and whose deaths are turned into official statistics. Our young protagonist seems above all this.

Here is a man who cannot be called “gay” because he himself does not contend with that label. But why insist on names? Then again, why not? This lack of contention on Paolo’s is tension in a cinema which propounds how gender shall banner sexual admission over privacy, a middle-class obsession. But the young man cannot escape himself: he meets up in a Gay Pride parade a former lover now decked in the most fabulous drag costume, a mirror to his conflicted restrained self, ready to point fingers at those who try to remind him of the silenced lapidary labels. The scene is also referential to Altarejos’s earlier Kasal, a filmic foreboding, an engaging conceit.

Paolo encounters an ex-partner who taunts him of his proclivities. There in a toilet, a furtive sex act is performed, the trajectory in male homosexuals who are ready to prove that gender is performative and begets the physical and material more than the symbolic.

While love and sex continue to happen in the lives of individuals, killings continue and justice is rendered inutile. There is hopelessness and anger in the land but Deus has ceased to be a powerful machine to pluck from this sorrowful existence all suffering mothers and kin. Even the monsters who are generating mayhem are not fully realized in this film. They are posters on the wall, armed men in the dark.

Where does this film lead us to? Where is the revolution that is spoken of in the title?

Altarejos presents to us a solution to a story, which is a problematic aspect in the narrative to those who are not enamored by the romance in the revolution. This solution is seen in the long walk—a journey—by our young man. He moves away from the dingy city and ends up in a forest mystical with clean streams. The flight is not heroic. While there is a clear departure, a detachment from the old community fraught with evil, there is no distinct arrival and there is no promise of return for this brave soul.

The young man reaches a clearing and is met by comrades. How did he come up with this decision to join the “rebels?”

Where did his change of heart and mind begin?

The problem with those who look for character motivations in a man who opts to fight fascist forces and capitalist might is to miss what this film is all about. Walang Kasarian…is not about a revolution aimed at toppling monolithic structures of inequalities but about genders and identities, and how the dialectics in the internal definition of human sexual politics can be translated to revolutionary ideas necessitating actions.

For a long time, Paolo has been making decisions as a private entity. His ends are intimate joys, not democratic, i.e., people, praxis and upheaval. Here

are the boons of the altermyth that is revolution: Altarejos may still be sourcing imagery from his wellspring of memories about men conquering their sexuality but captive to what the bourgeois society has pronounced pathological, or titillated by ruinous loves, but his politics in Walang Kasarian has reached an evolution of the collective. In place of class

struggle, gender warfare is the tool of this advocacy cinema.

So, should we celebrate the union of two men as liberation? The magic of cinema crystallizes the interstitial, oralizes the muted gaps in the narrative: two men are married but they are not necessarily vetted for happiness ever after (the hetero marital bliss is Judaeo-Christian, patriarchal and bourgeois philosophizing). Here is where Altarejos embraces with such passion, and with poignancy (a requirement in dramas of films) the thought that anytime, in the mountains, one in the couple may die. The battle for a cause, however, continues because love has ceased to be a private social contract; a marriage has become as public/social as a revolution, where all genders can enlist, and be red-tagged by a government that knows no empirical change.

Walang Kasarian ang Digmang Bayan is directed by Joselito Altarejos from his own screenplay. The film was nominated for the 2022 Gawad Urian in several categories, including Best Film. It won Best Editing (tied with On the Job: The Missing 8). The Manunuri cited its editing (Altarejos/Gerone Centeno) “for its use of fiction, theater, footages and images to piece together a tapestry of individual stories…histories and alternate future.” It is recognized for its attempt “at a grand coverage of time, sweeping across selected eras in Philippine and world histories.”

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