A timely advisory was issued by the creators of the phenomenal hit BL series “Gameboys” just before the Facebook streaming of a live script reading of Jun Lana’s critically acclaimed “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan” last Sunday, Sept. 27.
The note stating that the material “contains mature themes and language” ought to have served as fair warning to viewer-listeners, especially since a huge bulk of them were from the massive fandom of CaiReel/EliKoy, those who grew to love actors Elijah Canlas and Kokoy de Santos from their portrayal of the young lovers Cairo and Gavreel in “Gameboys”.
While the series has been rich with moving scenes and memorable moments that proved how seriously endearing Canlas and de Santos are, nothing could have prepared their fans for the treat they were about to be given through the live reading. There are no moments in “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan” where de Santos can woo his “baby” Canlas, because in the realm of it, they are doubtful friends masking animosities. One is a soldier and the other is a refugee suspected to be a rebel. One is a swaggering paramour while the other is a silently suffering husband. And in between them is a woman wielding her power with charm and cunning. Within such a dark and daring frame, how would EliKoy fare?
Therese Malvar’s latest big-screen appearance was from the Perci Intalan helmed “Distance” (2018), where she portrays a daughter coming to grips with her mom’s lesbian relationship, and for which she won Best Supporting Actress at Cinemalaya. For “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”, she proved herself capable of the challenging role of Emma, an internal refugee from a war between rebels and the military, living in destitution with her husband Nardo while indulging in the advances of their soldier friend Joel. On the surface, Malvar might appear too young to play Emma – it is after all a sexually-charged role, portrayed in the film by LJ Reyes who earned accolades for it here and abroad, including an Urian. But what Malvar may seem to lack in physical maturity — or the absence of a chance to show that she can indeed take on the full sexuality of certain scenes, given that she is only doing a reading — she made up for with an easy confidence. This was manifest in her bearing, in how she made use of the sultriness of her barely-made-up face, in how she would stretch and lean and throw side glances, and even in how she soldiered on through the tricky lines. Her duality of being playful with Joel and imposing on Nardo was believable. Most importantly, Malvar’s Emma stood out among the men, not at all eclipsed by EliKoy’s revelatory turn as Joel and Nardo.
Yes, part of the anticipation of the fans laid on the question of who would play Joel and Nardo, and they sure were met with a delightful revelation on the night of the livestreaming itself. In what appears now as the IdeaFirst style of holding back teasers (even “Gameboys” released its episodes without promotions), the company did not even drop a hint on whether Canlas as the reserved Cairo would be Nardo, or if de Santos as the go-getter Gavreel would be Joel, the likely assignments if we would adhere to their “Gameboys” characterizations. It was not until Intalan announced a few seconds before the actual start of the reading did viewers know that Canlas would be Joel and de Santos would be Nardo. The result – “Gameboys” fans bore witness to the range and depth of the two young actors who have brought much-needed joy and sunshine into their dreary lockdown days.
The gentleness of sweet Cairo disappeared as soon as Canlas started uttering the soldier Joel’s lines in his deep and low voice, at times teasing, and at its most crucial turns, sinister. Canlas was frightening, you will sense that he is out to harm, and all with just the simple use of his voice, his smirk, his glinting stare and taunting laugh. Since there was no way, of course, to physically portray the sexual aspect of his character in a live reading, Canlas made use of his forceful delivery of lines in evoking sexual energy. By the time we near the end of the reading, a diabolical Canlas has emerged, proving our fears right with his ruthlessness.
Counterpart to Canlas’s Joel was de Santos’s Nardo – desperate, needy, hurting and doomed. There may be those who anticipated that the role of Nardo might be assigned to de Santos. After all, despite de Santos’s wackiness in real life (fans who see his vlogs are aware of this) and obvious physical confidence (he has done daring roles such as in 2019’s Cinemalaya hit “Fuccbois”), this actor exudes a kinship to hardships. It’s as if he gives off this vibe that he naturally knows how it feels like to suffer. And that may have been a factor on why he was perfect as Nardo – he spoke, moved, and with his wide-eyed gaze as if anticipating a great pain, fully embodied the commoner, the refugee, the rebel.
These three actors deserve to be commended and applauded for their courage, for their acceptance to perform these roles given the limitations and under challenging circumstances. Credit must also be given to The IdeaFirst Company for its enormous trust to Malvar and EliKoy, believing these actors can give justice to a script first conceived by an equally courageous 20-year-old.
Immediately after the live reading, viewers had the chance to listen to Lana talk about the origins of the script – how he wrote it as a play first and as a 20-year-old, its eventual transformation into a screenplay and then as film, their struggle to have it screened in commercial cinemas despite the international accolades it earned, and its relevance to this day.
“Nakakalungkot na hindi s’ya naluma,” Lana said as he looked back on how seeing a documentary on internal refugees decades ago compelled him to write the play. The kind of oppression suffered by people caught in the crossfires of war remains the same; innocent lives are still lost and the living are bound to poverty and abuse. Lana, who was also inspired by spy stories such as those by Robert Ludlum, wanted to craft an espionage story too, but using the resources available to him. By grounding his spy narrative in the realities of armed conflict, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan” was born.
During the launch of the livestream, there were at least 1,800 viewers in tune, a figure which obviously made Lana happy, considering the very limited window the film had during its commercial run. Lana noted how good it was to have at least 1,700 viewers (they actually peaked at 1,800 while live, and now has over 46,000, as of writing), and while they are not sure on how to possibly show the movie again, at least online platforms exist now for viewers to still experience the story.
This prompted Intalan to recall the film’s production, “Alam naman naming hindi kikita, alam naman naming mahirap hanapan ng audience,” yet they soldiered on and accomplished the project, because “importanteng maikwento ito.” It did not matter to them then if only 15 or 50 people would come to see it, because the urgent need was to tell the story. He stressed, “May malalalim siyang mensahe tungkol sa reyalidad natin, na sa kasawiang palad ay hanggang ngayon, nangyayari pa rin.” He urged Canlas, de Santos and Malvar to keep playing brave roles for these stories to be delivered.
At some point, Intalan joked about retirement with Lana as he envisioned the promising possibilities for their actors. “Papalakpak na lang kami,” he said. To that, this writer begs no, please don’t just yet, and not until there is still a well of stories that need to be written. After all, it is the best stories that bring out the best performances. “Gameboys” has proven that, as it crossed lines between being a uniquely Filipino BL to which global fans have related with, and being a pandemic narrative, a record of our collective lives at a particular time. It won’t be surprising if just like “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”, it will be something that viewers will go back to again and again in the years to come, forever young. Hindi maluluma. NVG