“Anita’s Last Cha-Cha” will dance its way into your heart

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A damn delight–that’s how I’d describe Filipino film Anita’s Last Cha-Cha in a few words. Fortunately I have several hundred more to play with!

One of the themes we rarely get to see in lesbian cinema is that of early in life sexual stirrings; that moment when you’re just on the cusp of puberty and then suddenly a whole new world opens up. I get it–it’s not sexy and it’s not an experience we all share, many of us only having had our “aha” moment in our mid-teens or even decades later. But when this theme is handled right, we’re given a treat like Anita’s Last Cha-Cha.

The movie first introduces us to a grown up Anita, looking handsomely butch. It doesn’t take long before she takes us back in time to when her 12-year-old self first laid eyes on the goddess Pilar (played by the stunning Angel Aquino). Well actually, Pilar is a very real human being, but Anita can’t help but treat her as goddess-like in her childish wonder.

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Of course when a beautiful stranger shows up in town there’s always more to the story. Indeed while Pilar may be a stranger to Anita, the older townspeople know exactly who she is–the woman who 10 years ago rashly left her parents and boyfriend behind. But it’s a heck of a lot more complicated than that.

Not knowing all this, Anita declares to her little friends Carmen and Goying that, “She’s the girl I’m going to marry.” And like a good little butch, she goes about courting Pilar. It turns out the way to a woman’s heart is to teach her how to ride your wooden scooter.

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Anita has a very tangible goal in mind–a full body massage. Pilar is a physical therapist, having done her studies abroad (though apparently that’s not a thing in the Philippines, since everyone in town insists on calling her a massage therapist). Anita knows if she saves up enough she can get Pilar’s hands on her body. Quite the incentive!

The wrench in her plans? Anita’s cousin Oscar has already claimed Pilar’s heart! But he’s the boyfriend she left, and he’s now got another woman pregnant! (Cue dramatic music a la The Rich Man’s Daughter).

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 So clearly (and thankfully–because, come on, 12) Anita will not get to live out a love story with Pilar. And yet the film is a satisfying watch all the same for what it does show us.

Not once do you see someone trying to “correct” Anita over her attractions. Her friends are used to her tomboy ways and they recognize that Pilar is a stunner, so no judgment there. Her cousin Oscar mistakenly assumes she has a thing for Carmen (fool! Carmen is just starting to wear a training bra), but he never chastises her for liking girls. Even her mother, who has raised her alone since her father died, has nothing negative to say about her daughter’s desires when she consoles her after the inevitable heartbreak.

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Yes, Pilar is the cause of Anita’s first broken heart. But she’s also the catalyst for what’s to come. And despite the age difference, Anita ends up being the friend Pilar desperately needs. Both end up getting something special from this unique relationship.

Anita’s Last Cha-Cha is fun, and it’s different. Teri Malvar is perfect as the young Anita, and director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo has created something we should all be lucky enough to watch. So please, do.

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Oh and yes, as the title would suggest, there’s some dancing too!

Check out the movie’s Facebook page to find out when it’ll be playing at a film festival near you.

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