The title character in The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros turns out to be a lipstick-wearing, cross-dressing 12-year-old boy (Nathan Lopez), who lives in the Sampaloc slum district of Manila. Although his relatives are engaged in criminal activities, the youngster develops a serious crush on a rookie policeman Victor (JR Valentin), a devout Christian determined to enforce law and order in the neighbourhood. Despite working on an ultra low-budget, director Auraeus Solito orchestrates an engaging tale of an unconventional first love.
Since his mother's death, Maximo has taken on the maternal role in the Oliveros family, cooking, cleaning, washing and sewing for his father Paco (Soliman Cruz) and elder brothers Boy and Bogs. All these tough men seem very tolerant of the colourfully-attired Maximo's flamboyant effeminacy: the problem in their eyes isn't that the latter has fallen for a man, but that Victor can't be bribed to turn a blind eye to murder like the other local cops.
From the opening shots of our protagonist pulling out a flower from the muddied waters of a canal, this is an impressive and vivid portrait of everyday life in the teeming Philippino capital. Admittedly, Michiko Yamamoto's script is not without some contrivances, but it finds time for some playful cinematic references to both The Third Man and To Have and Have Not. Newcomer Lopez is wholly convincing in the lead role, and throughout the film is appealingly non-judgemental in how it treats the taboo issue of pre-teen sexuality.
The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros is out in the UK on 1st June.