Movie review: Uncomfortable 'Latay' tackles gender politics, spousal abuse

Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 10 2023 02:42 PM

Lovi Poe and Allen Dizon in 'Latay'
Lovi Poe and Allen Dizon in 'Latay'

Olan (Allen Dizon) and Lorena (Lovi Poe) have been married for two years. They lived in a hovel in the town of Minalin in Pampanga province. The past two years had not been easy for the couple, both financially (they do odd jobs to make ends meet) and emotionally (Lo suffered a miscarriage and could not conceive again). Things became worse when Olan's ex-girlfriend Cherry (Mariel de Leon) came back to town and got in touch with him.

Their frequent squabbling over the stresses of married life eventually turn to violence. However, instead of Olan beating Lo up, it was the other way around. Every time they fight, it was Olan who ended up getting scratches and bruises all over his body. There was a fight where his hand was injured by a knife that Lo wielded. Olan's injuries would go beyond the physical, as her verbal and psychological abuse could also be just as painful. 

We see Olan suffer physical injuries, but he was certainly no saint. It was his misbehavior which triggered Lo's fiery temper. His frustration against his wife's abuse was to turn his violence against other people around them. Their respective parents were no role models as well. Olan's drunkard father (Soliman Cruz) was abandoned by his wife. Lo's loudmouth mother (a very different Snooky Serna) was left by her husband for another woman. 

Aside from telling a story of challenged manhood, writer-director Ralston Jover also introduced Minalin, the town. The serenity and scenery of the Pampanga River were highlighted, as it played a big role in the story. Like Olan, many poor Minalin residents made a meager living by raising tilapia for their respective bosses in fish ponds. The film exposed what they do when there are fish kills, especially following earthquakes.

Minalin is also well-known for its Aguman Sanduk festival, of which Olan was an active participant. With a name that literally meant "fellowship of the ladle," this was a festival that featured heterosexual men (gays not allowed) wearing female dresses, wigs and makeup. This was meant to be a tribute to their womenfolk for the new year. The first few minutes of this film was practically a short documentary about the festival. 

The juxtaposition of this colorful gender-bending local festival with the gender politics and spousal abuses was a brilliant idea by Jover. Even if they play characters against their usual type, Allen Dizon and Lovi Poe both give strong performances. Dizon was a natural in Olan's milieu, as if he is not acting. Her striking beauty may not fit her character's poverty nor the friends she kept, Poe still believably portrayed the mean, violent streak in Lo. 

The movie is not a comfortable watch because of the extreme situations where Jover took his plot and characters. The severe husband-wife conflict between Olan and Lo may feel familiar to many married couples even if they never actually reached that level of violence yet. Some lines may hit hard for those guilty. 

This film serves as a cautionary tale for partners on the pressures marriage life may exert. Violence is never the good way. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."

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