"Kalel, 15" caught local attention because it won for writer-director Jun Lana the Best Director prize in the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia just three weeks ago. Perhaps to ride on the prestige of this international accolade, it was released in cinemas rather suddenly, just a week before the Metro Manila Filmfest. This dark indie is Lana's third feature film this year, after two much lighter mainstream features, "The Panti Sisters" (a major box-office hit) and "Unforgettable" (starring Sarah Geronimo).
Kalel, a 15 year old student in a private Catholic school, was diagnosed to be positive for HIV. He lived with his mother Edith and an elder sister Ruth, both irresponsible libidinous women who always hooked up with the wrong men. His father George could not live with him because of the restrictive vocation he was in. Can he trust his group of close friends or his girlfriend Sue to stick with him should they find out about the virus he is carrying? Or did he have only himself to count on to survive?
The central role of Kalel Fernandez, a 15-year old prematurely thrust into harsh adult realities, is a difficult complex role. Elijah Canlas was able to convey his character's internal turmoil as fear, ignorance and frustration clashed with his hyperactive youthful hormones. Aside from the complex emotional shifts, the role is physically-demanding with all the walking, running and fighting he had to do. He already gave a good supporting performance in "Edward" earlier this year, and this one went up a notch higher.
Jaclyn Jose was so maddening as the errant mother Edith, but only she can pull off and get away with that drunken bull session like she delightfully did. As Ruth, Elora Espano was right in her comfort zone playing yet another uncouth slutty woman.
As Sue, Gabby Padilla is becoming the go-to actress for these flawed high-school girls, like in "Eerie" and "Dead Kids" all this year. Eddie Garcia (star of Lana's "Bwakaw" and "Barbers Tales") played Kalel's father George, a father in more ways than one, no further explanations needed.
The whole film was in stark black-and-white. From the very beginning, the director chose to use blurred imagery, glaring lights, and distorted musical score for the audience to vicariously feel the intense confusion and uncertainty felt by the central character.
This slow-paced film was very uncomfortable to watch because it immersed you in its very serious subject matter -- a most-feared and misunderstood infection inflicting a neglected and misguided minor victim, as well as the people and the society around him.
Named for the invincibility of youth, Kalel is just one of many out there now going through this hell. It seems there is no redemption forthcoming.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."