In Focus: Born Beautiful

The long-anticipated spin-off of 2016’s smash hit Die Beautiful has finally reached our cinemas after two long years. Once planned to be a 12-part series, creator Jun Robles Lana and director Perci Intalan present Born Beautiful as a full-length title that’s bigger and bolder than the original.

Barbs (Martin del Rosario) is still grieving the loss of best friend Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros) when she’s literally struck by another tragedy. Faced with an existential crisis, she tries to reform herself and questionwhat living and loving truly means.

At the core of Born is an exploration of love and sexuality for a transgender woman like Barbs, whose life experiences have made her belittle herself. Not only does she content with getting crumbs from her lovers, but she even at one point considered re-becoming a man to do away with the suffering that comes with being herself. Her journey of growth and maturity leads to the eventual realization of self-worth.

In fact, Born’s closing scene reminds of Monti Parungao’s Sagwan (2009), which introduces a polyamorous relationship among the mains. As Barbs says in her Q&A, one shouldn’t love as much as she can but as many as she can. The consideration of this concept alone is arguably enough for it to warrant an R-18 rating, but such unconventional setup as a radical alternative to limiting and oppressive morals is something that Barbs deserves for her agency and empowerment.

The film is packaged as a comedy with Perci Intalan’s trademark dark humor, so removed of analyzing its hard-hitting theme, audiences can still enjoy the ride. Martin del Rosario has big shoes to fill in replacing Christian Bables, but he does a superb job of making the character his own. Chai Fonacier also has a standout role later in the story for that last-minute humorous push.

If there’s one thing that’s painful, it’s that it ended so soon. I can see why it was earlier pitched as a TV series – there’s so much story there that couldn’t be squeezed in less than 2 hours of film. I would love to see sequels that will allow us to get to know Barbs’ harem deeper. But for now, let’s content ourselves with celebrating this gem of Pinoy queer cinema.

Directed by: Perci Intalan
Starring: Martin del Rosario, Kiko Matos, Akihiro Blanco, Chai Fonacier, Paolo Ballesteros

Random notes (SPOILERS BELOW)

  • For those wondering, pageantry is no longer the centerpiece of Born, though it still occurs sporadically.
  • There’s one minor gaffe where Barbs keeps the rape a secret from Yumi (Chai Fonacier) in the interrogation after just blurting it out a couple of scenes earlier.
  • The promotion seems to have banked on the kissing scenes, but believe me when I say this movie is much more than that.
  • As for why it’s called “Born,” I surmise it alludes to Barbs’ insecurity and self-pity and how she overcame it — or maybe it’s as simple as she’s having a baby!
  • It would be interesting to have a sequel that centers on Barbs’ fatherhood/motherhood and how she will raise her son.

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