by Richard Bolisay
▶︎ At the heart of Kiko Boksingero is a schoolboy who lives in a rather comfortable house with his nanny, a servile lady whose life revolves around taking care of him, from putting on his clothes in the morning to putting him to bed at night. She is a mother and servant at the same time, and Kiko, too enmeshed in his solitude, takes this for granted. After school, he frequents a house to practice boxing alone, a house, as it turns out, owned by his father, a former boxer. Kiko is happy to see him, doggedly seeking his love and attention. He spars and spends time with him, seemingly making up for lost time. By doing so Kiko also distances himself from the incessant affection of his nanny, who has always been there for him, and to whom he returns when his father decides to leave again.
Kiko Boksingero explores these two elements of family (familiarity with the father who has abandoned him and de-familiarity with the nanny who has been with him all his life) to tell a touching coming-of-age story that does not rely on the clichés of the genre and its huge dramatic leaps. It derives much of its power from the details of Kiko’s life — the likelihood of living in the States with his aunt, the boys at school who taunt him, the girl he has a crush on, the satisfaction and self-validation he gets from boxing, etc. — and how these contribute to his longing to have a real family. What drives the film is this astute sensibility about growing up that on one hand understands the complexity and naivete of being a motherless boy wanting to be liked by his father, and on the other emphasizes the underrated merit of telling a straightforward narrative without resorting to convenient flashbacks or sweeping gestures (connoting that coming of age is the desire to always look ahead and move forward).
This preciseness of its vision is shown in how it gets its tempo right: It lets the viewers get used to its rhythm without making them feel that it is unfolding. And this lovely, restrained tone has never once felt artificial and intrusive. It is set in Baguio, in a city that feels like a town, and unlike those films that make loud displays of its location and take advantage of its peculiarities, the most it does is quietly show houses from afar, rows and rows of homes with their lights on at night, with the glare of their roofs and windows on the day, with mothers and fathers and siblings likely inside of them, together, their little lives spent with each other, these shots and their significance evoking what Kiko longs to have, and what Kiko, at the end of the film, seems to accept he can live without.
There will always be a special place in one’s heart for films that feel shy and small, films that lack the confidence to make noise and are armed only with faith in their stories, films that turn out to be worth cheering on till the very end. These are made by people who do not use good intentions as an excuse to be mediocre. Kiko Boksingero is one of these films. In a festival that has grown to intensify competition between movies instead of allowing them to complement one another, seeing it is a pleasant surprise in an array of bombastic, big-themed entries, a work so dedicated to giving its best in every small aspect that its simplicity, its tender rendering of youth, is nothing short of heartbreaking. ***
Richard Bolisay is a film critic. This piece was previously published on his site Lilok Pelikula under "Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2017 (Part 1)," August 8 2017.