Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Piedro de San Paulo | A Boy Named Cocoy


by Douglas Messerli

Piedro de San Paulo (screenwriter and director) A Boy Named Cocoy / 1992

The Philippines director Piedro de San Paulo’s 1992 short film A Boy Named Cocoy shares its opening with many other Filipino gay movies, with a gay boy from the provinces having just arrived in Manila finding city life nearly impossible and utterly perplexing.

    In this case a young man (Jebong So) from the mountains has just gotten off the bus, come to the city with a few changes of clothing, a small amount of money, and his uncle’s address in his knapsack. Exhausted from his journey, he settles up against a concrete buttress attached to a high rise apartment complex and falls asleep.

 A street boy observes him and creeps out of the shadows, walks up to the sleeping boy, grabs up the knapsack and speeds off. Having observed what has just happened from a high balcony, another boy (Brian Olaivar) observes what’s happening and rushes down to warn the new kid too late. When the mountain boy bemoans his terrible fate, now in a monstrously unfamiliar city without clothes, money, or even a way of contacting his uncle, the other boy offers him temporary shelter in his nicely furnished apartment, immediately removing from the refrigerator a large cold meal of leftovers, before he offers the boy a shower, and his own bed.

     We recognize almost immediately, however, he may require payment of another sort for his many kindnesses. While the boy, Cocoy is showering, an act the film viewers observe fully, the boy attempts to get a quick peek at his new naked friend through a small outdoor window; and later, as Cocoy lies sprawled out in his underwear in his bed, he attempts to stroke his guest’s chest and explore his penis, thwarted only by the boy’s movements in his sleep.

     The next morning, true to his promises, however, he does take his new friend to the large open market where he buys him new clothes and, presumably takes him as he has proposed to the movies. 

      Still, we are now suspicious of his intentions. And that evening, when the boy awakens to find his bedmate missing, he creeps down the stairs, watching from the step his friend engaged in homosexual ecstasy as another boy fellates him and then fucks him. Cocoy seems utterly fascinated by what he sees, but finally returns to his bed, seemingly internally disturbed by what he has just witnessed. 

    In the morning he begins packing, obviously having been provided with a new knapsack and a small wardrobe of clothing. When his friend confronts him, he admits that he has observed him having sex, and he fears that all the kindnesses he has been shown have simply been proffered by way of developing him as a sexual playmate.

     The friend apologizes him for not having revealed his homosexuality, but promises that he has no sexual intentions with regard to Cocoy and simply wants to remain with him as a friend. He begs him to reconsider and stay on, with the freedom to leave any time in the future.

       In a sudden change of mind, Cocoy admits that he is beholden to his generosity, and that the other does deserve some sort of repayment for his kind acts. He proposes, as he begins to undo his shirt, his entire body is open for one sexual act as compensation.

       In a sense Cocoy has offered up a nearly impossible temptation to his gay friend, since, by the time he has finished describing his offer, he stands before him naked. It is apparent that his friend even quickly mulls over the situation before moving forward and engaging in a long tender sex act with the boy, all of which Cocoy seems to very much enjoy, ending with him penetrating his host.

       Despite his apparent willingness in engage in gay sex and clearly enjoying it, however, after their encounter we see him packed up, ready to return to the provinces. Apparently, he is truly heterosexual or unable to accept the implications of homosexual behavior. But as he moves out of the frame, his generous host expressing a slight smile of pleasure on his face, we know that the Cocoy who returns home will surely not be the same innocent who left his mountain village. And what he perhaps does not yet fully comprehend is that he has now become a kind of prostitute.

     Although de San Paulo’s work provides us with several well-framed images and demonstrates his ability to film sensuous soft-porn sexual acts (in this instance unafraid of revealing an erect penis), the grainy textured obviously bootlegged Russian-dubbed tape I saw, along with the characters lack of clear motivations, made this for me a rather flowed film experience.

     Perhaps if the director had permitted his central character to actually link up with his uncle he might, seeing Cocoy in different circumstances, more fully reveal his own identity and actually given his character some room to better comprehend his own sexual feelings. As it is, we must impose our own emotions upon this enigmatic country-boy figure.

      One cannot help but compare it with Crisaldo Pablo’s 2005 film Bilog (Circles), which also involves a young country boy who comes to Manila, in this case in search of his former girlfriend. In that work, however, unlike de San Paulo’s Cocoy, the gradually disenchanted innocent stays on, discovering in a kind of bisexual existence not only a way to survive in the city street life but to triumph over it. 

Los Angeles, May 12, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Reivew (May 2021).      





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