This review was updated on Jan. 30, 2006.
Auraeus Solito's first narrative feature "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" is an unusually low-key Filipino drama whose neo-realist air generally triumphs over the script's violent, tearful contrivances. Worthy of further fest (especially gay fest) attention, pic will nonetheless prove a difficult sell offshore, where the 12-year-old protag's cross-dressing precocity and his relationship with a hunky policeman may cause more discomfort than amusement.
Maxi (impressive newcomer Nathan Lopez) is youngest child of widower Paca (Soliman Cruz). Like nearly everyone in their Manila slum, Paca, moody Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) and antic middle son Bogs (Ping Medina) survive outside of the legal economic grid -- selling stolen cell phones, placing bets, etc. Occasionally teased but mostly accepted as a girl in a boy's body, super-femme Maxi dropped out of school to be surrogate "wife," cooking, cleaning and fussing over everyone. He's smitten with handsome rookie cop Victor (JR Valentin), who takes him under his wing -- platonically, though vibe is near-romantic at times. When Boy kills a student during a bungled robbery, however, Maxi is caught between protecting his kin and Victor. Persuasive perfs and location usage highlight diverting tale.
Camera (color, HD), Nap Jamir; editors, Kanakan-Balintagos, Clang Sison; music, Pepe Smith; production designers, Crsitina Dy, Clint Catalan, Lilly Esquillon. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema, competing), Jan. 20, 2006. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Kinderfilmfest.) Running time: 100 MIN.