REVIEW: Supot [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 13 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (Philippines)
Studio: New York University Tisch Asia
Director(s): Phil Giordano
Writer(s): Phil Giordano

“What if I can’t stand the pain?”

For some rural villages in the Philippines circumcision is a rite of passage for young boys. We’re not talking surgical removal by a doctor as a baby, though. This tradition takes place at age ten by a designated patriarch with a sharpened blade and rock. Each boy soaks in water to soften the foreskin, chews some guava leaves, and looks up into the sky as the knife comes down. To us it’s barbaric; to them it’s an evolution towards manhood. When cut you can walk side-by-side with your father and other men rather than trailing behind as a coward. To be Supot (uncircumcised) is to be a pariah. You must endure the pain for cultural inclusion. And in turn you must ensure your own sons follow suit.

Currently based in Singapore, writer/director Phil Giordano lenses his tale of adolescent strife with an Eastern sensibility. His depiction of Rene-boy’s (Andrei Fajarito) fear at the edge of his father Itoy’s (John Arcilla) blade isn’t to shine the former as victim and latter as monster. This isn’t a glimpse into some archaic world for Americans to necessarily pity or embolden themselves to prevent. It is merely fact. The deed itself proves as common an event as a confirmation, bar mitzvah, or sweet sixteen here—it’s a formality, a cultural imperative. That doesn’t mean it has to be enjoyed or necessarily craved; it just must be done. Rene-boy hopes he can get around it by winning his father’s praise another way, but life isn’t so simple.

Rene-boy’s journey is one we can empathize with beyond the act of the film’s title because our coming-of-age is a scary proposition regardless of the means providing it. He sees his brother Kinopi’s (Kinopi Malbas) popularity and confidence. The older boy has a way about him that vaults him higher in stature whether physical appearance aligns with the contrast or not. Kinopi is their father’s assistant of sorts in the adult world and champion spider fighter in that of the children. He commands respect even if his spot is tenuous due to the immaturity of his age. Rene-boy can topple him in the realm of youthful frivolity, but to do so in the eyes of the village and his father means enduring the inevitable pain his future demands.

Supot is a resonate piece refusing to let Western thinking in. There’s no figure fighting to stop the tradition or loophole for the boy to escape. Even his mother Cora (Mercedes Cabral) cannot give shelter, her soft words of support easing him forth to assuage Rene-boy’s fright while pushing him to join his friends. Giordano handles the circumcision with dignity, objectively portraying it as the catalyst to uncover every boy’s insecurities at the cusp of adulthood. Rene-boy may be ten-years old, but if he goes through with the procedure he will instantly become a man. Not only must he prevail over the physical agony, there’s also the psychological erasure of childhood’s freedom to accept. The cut carries responsibility for the village. It must be embraced body and soul.

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