Review of first Tagalog film shot in Dubai

Bittersweet expatriation
A straight-laced story narrated without pretensions, the Tagalogue movie, Dubai, showcases the trials and tribulations and joys and dreams of the expatriate Filipino community in the Gulf

Self-imposed expatriation – especially when made to chase your dreams and source your livelihood – has the same resonance in every human heart. That is the underlying core of Dubai, a Tagalogue movie with English subtitles, which made its international premiere recently in Dubai.
If for a fault, the film succumbed to the accepted stereotypes that one associates with the Filipino community, there was no denying the togetherness it fostered at the local theatre which screened the film. Huge crowds turned in for the special shows, and their reaction to the film was spontaneous, often bathed in unbridled joy. Stars were greeted with thunderous claps, evocative moments with dense silence, jovial takes with roaring laughter and the more intimate scenes with catcalls.
Directed by veteran Rory Quintos, the film accomplishes what many Bollywood productions, which use Dubai as a base for shooting, have seldom tried. Dubai’s thematic core, narrative flow and character sketches are thoroughly ingrained in Dubai, the city. There is no taking out the city from the film or the film from the city – as is possible with virtually every Indian film made in Dubai.
Interestingly, while the film looks at capturing the landmarks of the city, it doesn’t stoop to the level of tourist documentaries either. Through most of its length, Dubai has the right props at the right places. There are the notable exaggerations though: The relatively luxuriously lifestyle of the film’s protagonists, for one. That is a minor blemish, if you look at the larger picture.
Essentially, Dubai is a feel-good film. It is also about the bonding of two brothers. And unlike the peripheral, cosmetic characters that women play in many Southeast Asian films, Dubai’s heroine, Faye (Claudine Barretto) faces an existential dilemma. She isn’t aware why she is in Dubai, on the first place, and what she is running away from.
Her association with the two male leads – Aga Muhlach and John Llyod Cruz (described as the next Aga Muhlach) – is constructed convincingly despite the hiccups you expect in a love triangle that involves two brothers.
Orphaned in childhood, Raffy (Aga) and Andrew (John) are in Dubai to accomplish their longtime dream of migrating to Canada. Little does Andrew know when he joins his brother how much the elder’s dreams have shifted, focused now on living the good life in Dubai. Andrew is offended by the flirtatious and ever-so-helpful-to-strangers attitude of Raffy. And to boot, he hasn’t saved enough to make their move to Canada. The youngster feels that Raffy has trampled on his dreams.
An accidental meeting with Faye, who loves Raffy so dearly but yet can’t get a commitment from him, changes Andrew’s life. They have an intense affair, which puts all the three in a spot. The dilemma has no easy solutions: Raffy must help Andrew realise his dreams and also convince him of his love; Faye must choose between the father of her child, and the man she truly loves, “the brother of her child’s father.”
While the story might appear wafer-thin, to the credit of script-writers Ricky Lee and Shaira Salvador, the narrative is commendably convincing. The emotional bonding between the two brothers as well as their affections for Faye is brilliantly etched.
But what stays on to you, much after the viewing, are passing observations peppered in the script, often made by supporting characters. Cookie (Marietta ‘Pokwang’ Subong, a former Abu Dhabi resident) is one who leaves an impression, if not always for the right reasons. Despite being faced by one personal crisis after another, she sums up her philosophy in one line: “Life is beautiful and so are we.”
While it appears simplistic, that effortless take on life characterises the joviality of the Filipino community, well captured in the film. The film also pegs on the “dream factor,” the one motivation that propels anyone to leave their homeland. It also celebrates the strong community bonding of Filipinos, and the dignity of labour they uphold. “Wherever you put him, he (a Filipino) is the best,” as Raffy puts it.
Aga Muhlach flits from one emotional moment to another effortlessly. The boyish charm of John Lloyd Cruz is a perfect foil to the serious, introspective self of Aga. Between them, Claudine holds well as a loveable, self-respecting Faye.
If Dubai fails to become a quasi-classic of its time, it is due to its rather contrived ending. The emotional quotient that the film painstakingly built is toppled but a series of clichéd coincidences – the truth about his brother being overheard by Andrew, the accident that eventually brings the two brothers together…
But there are many inspiring moments in the film: Raffy’s speech at his friend’s wedding, despite its extempore tone, drives home some hard facts. How the expatriates slog in a foreign land to send “electronic appliances” for those back home. And he concludes it on a touching note: “We are here for whom we love.”
That, as bottom lines go, crystallizes the pains and joys of expatriates – be they Filipinos or Indians.

Rajeev Nair

Aga’s takes
Playing Raffy, who opts to stay in Dubai instead of accompanying his brother to Canada, Aga Muhlach plays an endearing Filipino expatriate in the Gulf. But how does he, as an individual, feel about Dubai? He spoke exclusively to The Gulf Today:

In the film, your character opts to stay in Dubai. Personally, between Canada and Dubai, where will you choose?
“Dubai and Canada have different characteristics, and you can’t actually compare the two. But being Filipino, and seeing the Filipinos here, I feel they are more at home here in Dubai or in the Middle East, where the weather is closer to the Philippines. For me, personally, I don’t know really, which I will choose.”

How do you look back on the experience of shooting a full-length Tagalogue film in Dubai?
It was different more so because you see your fellow Filipinos working here at close quarters. Sometimes it is sad but then at the same time you can be happy for them because they are used to staying here already, and they have established themselves already. It makes me feel proud of them, really.

With Dubai, is Filipino cinema going international?
Yes, Filipino cinema is fast growing. We have many Filipinos in different countries – in the Middle East, the US, Europe and the Far East. We are trying to touch base with them through our films. We try to make more films that these overseas Filipinos can watch. Next year, we are planning to do a film in London.
– RN

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