For some people, the description of this movie will read like a nonprofit funding application. It covers climate change, colonialism, poverty, and trans issues. It ticks a lot of progressive boxes. And that would be to completely miss that it is also an irreverent, and sometimes very beautiful mix of magical realism storytelling and necessary truths about the hard parts of life.
Directed by Sean Devlin It is set in the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda. When the storm came Jaya (as themselves), a trans TV presenter, lost their job and had to revert to being Mr Andrade, a middle-aged nonbinary teacher. The children they teach are traumatised by the impact that the storm has had on their lives and Mr Andrade gets little respect for the hard work of trying to both teach and heal.
Jaya decides to change their life and sets off on a journey to win the prize of Ms Gay Sicogon. It’s a road trip movie (well, more pedicab and ferry as there is little funds for a vehicle and Sicogon is an island). The trip involves meeting those whose lives were devastated by Yolanda. But more than the devastation it reveals the corruption and opportunism that the storm allowed to run rampant. Those who had lost so much from the storm lost even more in its botched aftermath. But in the midst of it Jaya finds the comedy of life including many unfortunate wigs, some stand-up comedy, and the world’s slowest car chase, or its meandering pedicab equivalent.
The way the story is told is what makes it magical. Fantasies, animations, and flashbacks give a saturation of color to the tale. While the pace is somewhat slow it also feels reverent and respectful of the lives it represents. It is a meditation on grief, loss, and perseverance. The title of the film, Asog, is the nonbinary equivalent of Babaylan, who were the female spiritual leaders and healers before colonization. Asog were their counterparts who were born male and present as female. Jaya, via Mr Andrade, rises from trying to heal a classroom full of personalized traumas to trying to heal a generation whose trauma is systemic.
PS We reviewed the film at BFI London Film Festival for future screenings check https://www.asogfilm.com/
Queerguru Contributing Editor ANDREW HEBDEN is a MEDIA and cultural STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing, and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement, he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre, and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day”