March 15 2012

Mateo Guez’s Off World made its Toronto premiere at the 2010 ReelWorld Film Festival, and I can see it working there. A project this ragged needs the context of a film festival to make sense. On its own, it barely feels like a movie.

Lucky, a Toronto man (Marc Abaya), returns to the Philippines in search of his identity and finds his long-lost brother (Marco Morales) working as a transvestite prostitute in the Manila slum of Smokey Mountain. It’s a wobbly attempt to blend fictional storytelling and ethnographic travelogue – but the actors can’t carry the drama, and the documentary material is poorly organized and fairly superficial.

Guez tries to bolster the narrative by giving Lucky a poetic inner monologue, delivered on the soundtrack by David Usher – but that just makes us wonder why the character is so halting and inarticulate in his conversations with everyone around him, and why Lucky never mentions the poverty and hopelessness that so bother him privately.