by Jeff Walsh
The Masseur intercuts between two extended storylines. In the first, we see Iliac as a 20-year-old masseur that is having a session with a slightly older gay man. The other storyline in the movie focuses on the death of Iliac's father, which occurred on the same night, and he goes back to his small hometown in the Philippines for the funeral.
While sex work is always a dramatic backdrop for gay films, it does seem that we are missing a normal view of what gay life is in the Philippines. The guys working in the massage parlors always seem to be smart and mature, and their clients lonely and needing intimacy, but most of the time I am left wondering why he can't make money as something other than a sex worker, and why his client can't find a relationship.
I'm not extrapolating here. Iliac doesn't seem to enjoy being a sex worker, and his client does talk about wanting a relationship. But is it because there are no jobs for Iliac in Manila? Is there not much of a gay life there, which prevents his client from exploring his sexuality elsewhere? These are the questions raised that don't really get answered.
There was nothing really bad about this film. It didn't have much to say but, clocking in at under 80 minutes, it didn't wear out its welcome. There was a little too much emphasis on editing the two stories together through parallel imagery that seemed unnecessary: Iliac's father laying in the morgue in his underwear shot from above the same way we see Iliac straddling his underwear-clad client while massaging him, and such.
Of course, there are nude scenes with a lot of the hot massage boys, but nothing is shot to be titillating. Most of it is just them walking naked to the showers after finishing up with a client or somesuch, rather than slow pans up and down naked bodies.
On the flip side, we don't learn too much about Iliac when he in the scenes for his father's funeral, either. His mother seems to think he has a legitimate job in Manila, and we don't get too much information about the relationship he has with his mother or siblings. He had a fractured relationship with his father, which plays to his reticence about being there for his funeral.
It is similar to the reaction I have to a lot of international films, which is that the motivations of the characters seem to be understood, the unique culture of the setting is not played up enough, and the journey doesn't seem to go all that far. A lot of the times, this formula is enough to make me write off movies, but there seems to be a good story knotted up under the surface of The Masseur, it just needed more sessions on the table to get the kinks worked out.