Is an LGBTQ film shown in 2000 still relevant after twenty years? This is what I’ve asked myself when I learned that Markova: Comfort Gay is one of the 170 films featured in this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Festival) in its digitally restored and re-mastered form. It is the festival’s way of giving tribute to the late King of Comedy, Dolphy (Rodolfo Vera Quizon in real life), who died in 2012.
This film was directed by the late Gil Portes, written by Clodualdo “Doy” Del Mundo, Jr., and produced by Dolphy himself under his own RVQ Productions. Dolphy and his two sons, Eric and Epy Quizon, play the role of Walterina Markova, a stage name of Walter Dempster, Jr., in three stages of his life.
The first few scenes establish Markova as an aging homosexual living in the Home for the Golden Gays, a house for aging members of the LGBTQ community founded by the late Pasay Councilor Justo Justo. Markova goes to church everyday before going to work in a training center for entertainers who would want to work in Japan.
After watching a documentary about comfort women — women who were raped and abused during the Japanese occupation or World War II — Markova told Justo that he would come out to tell his story. He claimed that he, too, together with other gay friends, were abused during that time.
So Justo seeked the help of reporter Loren Legarda to interview Markova. Thus starts a flashback storytelling showing a young Walter (Epy Quizon) dealing with the tortures from his elder brother (played by Freddie Quizon, Dolphy’s son) who hated him for being gay. At the latter part of a flashback, an old Markova (Dolphy) goes into the scene as if he’s re-enacting them while telling his story to Legarda.
Then the story moved forward to the Japanese occupation where Markova (now played by Eric Quizon) as a cross-dresser and stage performer, together with his gay cross-dresser friends. This time, she goes by the name Walterina Markova in honor of his favorite ballerina, Alicia Markova. When a Japanese military officer discovered that Markova is gay, he ordered Markova and his friends to be imprisoned. There, they were tortured, and sexually abused by the Japanese soldiers.
After the war, this group of friends went separate ways and Markova still worked in the entertainment industry, this time as a make-up artist.
The “comfort gay” episode of his life was brief, thus making the title a bit of a misnomer. The film was primarily a biographical account, with a touching portrayal of his coming out and the strong bond of friendship with his friends, as they struggle to survive through tough times.
The film took the effort to showcase the ‘30s up to the ‘50s but it felt lacking. I saw this film for the first time during its special advance screening back in November 2020, a few weeks before the Metro Manila Film Festival. I remember I was seated near Eric Quizon and I overheard him comment on those extras who played Japanese soldiers who were not really Japanese at all. In short, those were Japanese-looking Filipinos. In fact, the Japanese soldier playing a flute is one of Dolphy’s sons.
I felt awkward seeing Loren Legarda playing herself. No offense meant to journalists or news reporters, but acting is not one of their forte.
Maybe it is the Filipino culture of family and society’s perception of homosexuality during the mid-20th century that made this film stereotypical of its portrayal of gays — cross-dressers, effeminate manner of speaking, holding a fan, homophobic family members, etc. — that being shown twenty years later makes it melodramatic, having an extravagant theatricality and predominantly plot-driven.
Although it was restored under the ABS-CBN’s Film Restoration or Sagip Pelikula project to re-introduce Filipino classic films to the younger audiences, the way the film tackles homosexuality is now trite. That’s why I’m going to give this 3 out of 5 stars.