Every new year, there is a curious tradition in Minalin, Pampanga where menfolk cross-dress and join a parade and even join beauty local contests.
The folk tradition is called Aguman Sanduk.
But look, gays are not allowed in this folk celebration.
It is strictly for sturdy men who love women.
Early accounts had it that the place suffered terrible droughts in the past and thus could not prepare food for New Year celebration.
Even without food, they found a way to entertain town folks and that is to present men dressed and made up as women as source of merrymaking.
With Aguman Sanduk celebration as backdrop, a story of a battered husband called Latay (Battered Husband) unreels with Allen Dizon in the title role.
Lovi Poe comes in as the silently suffering but cruel wife who through the years has realized she has no love lost for a husband not keen on giving her a better life.
Wife can only take so much.
To make matters worse, husband turns to a lonely neighbor as an escape from his overbearing partner.
Written and directed by Ralston Jover, Latay is a slice of small-town domestic violence with a twist.
But where women are usually victims, this film highlights a seemingly good husband as the aggrieved party.
The recurring domestic violence would have been normal in a countryside setting.
But wife has had enough of hand-to-mouth existence and blames the husband for not getting a better job.
What follows are nightly violent encounters highlighted by confrontations that don’t resolve marital issues.
One easily notes that the Aguman celebration is a pathetic backdrop of his aggrieved manhood.
As the town celebrates, this small-town husband is living by the skin of his teeth, making do with fishpond harvests for meager subsistence.
Wife thought of leaving for abroad to find gainful employment.
Quietly, she plots her future without the husband.
For her, going abroad is a big escape from a marriage that no longer works.
Husband senses he is not part of the plan.
Reeling on a loveless marital life while seeking solace from equally loveless neighbor, it is a dead end for husband and his marriage.
Director Jover finds a way to weave the husband’s helplessness and the wife’s impatience to portray a rural marriage that is not meant to be.
On the whole, it is a portrait of doomed marriage trying to survive on meager income.
On the husband’s part, he can only take so much.
It looks like he has accepted his fate but still insists that his wife give their marriage a second chance.
While escorting his wife to the big city where a new job awaits in a foreign country, he had it figured.
Yes, he can only take so much.
As the battered husband, Dizon delivers with aplomb with amazing layers of acting that works.
Poe as wife Lori finally finds the role that will give justice to her acting ability long-hidden from rom-com roles.
As husband and wife, Dizon and Poe deliver good rapport.
Also, doubly noticeable is Snooky Serna as the incurable mother-in-law. She rants endlessly as the couple tries to find a way out of their domestic troubles.
Latay is a quiet film that portrays marital trouble in all its silent but dangerous facets.
A big compliment is the excellent musical scoring by Diwa de Leon which managed to capture the ups and downs of a marriage not meant to be.
Shot before the pandemic and only released this year, Latay has won the Best Director of a Foreign Language Film award in the 2020 East Europe International Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland.
It also won a Silver Remi at the Houston International Film Festival in Texas, USA and a Gold Award at the Wallachia International Film Festival in Romania.
It also received the Award of Excellence in Direction at the 7th Art Independent Film Festival India and the Best Global Feature Film in 10th International Film Festival Manhattan.
Latay is now showing in cinemas.
Meanwhile, cineastes will be up to another box office clash of films with varying versions on the life of former senator Ninoy Aquino.
Vince Tanada embarks on his second film project with “Ako Si Ninoy.” It has JK Labajo in the title role.
It opens in cinemas on February 22.
Infamous director Darryll Yap takes on the life of Ninoy Aquino with a film called Martyr or Murderer with the equally infamous Isko Moreno as Ninoy Aquino.
Seasoned director Joel Lamangan carves his own version of what happened in Malacanang during the 1986 EDSA uprising with his film, Oras de Peligro, opening on March 1.