By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com December 24 2009 2:35 PM ET

One of the biggest compliments Filipino director Soxie Topacio gets on his new film, Grandpa Is Dead (Ded na si Lolo), is that it looks so real.

"Everyone
keeps coming up to me and saying that," the director said. This
low-budget family comedy was shot in just six days, the same amount of
time the family in the story has to grieve over the death of their
patriarch, Juanito Hernandez.

The film begins with Juanito's
family members receiving the news that he has died. This starts a chain
reaction of fainting, which the youngest family member, Bobet
(11-year-old actor B.J. Forbes), just doesn't understand. But the
fainting is a tradition — one of many rituals and superstitions of
grieving a loved one's death that Topacio portrays in his film, spoken
entirely in Tagalog.



"My mother was like that, my uncle was like that, I was like that," Topacio says, laughing.

Over
the course of a six-day wake, the adult children uncover their parents'
major secret, which then helps them heal old wounds. It's clear that
the film has a special significance for Topacio, who says the backbone
of this story is its autobiographical nature; Bobet represents who he
was as a boy, watching his family as they grieved the loss of their
patriarch.

But in every adult-oriented family film, there must
be a dress-wearing son. From the moment Junee (Roderick Paulate)
sashays down the dark Manila street where his family lives and up to
his father's casket in a bright red evening gown, he steals the show.
Watching this movie, you expect Junee's character, a gay man dressed as
a woman who sells, um, "happiness," to be annoyingly over-the-top, but
thankfully he isn't. In fact, Junee is the one shouting the voice of
reason over and alongside his fainting sisters, in a warm, familiar
tone that makes him endearing throughout the film.



Paulate, Topacio says, is one of the Philippines' most recognizable
faces, despite being out as a gay man for decades. Like his film
siblings (Dick Israel, Elizabeth Oropesa, Gina Alajar, and Manilyn
Reynes), Paulate has starred in dozens of television shows in the
Philippines, giving this small film the star power it needed to get the
attention it has garnered.

And now it's the country's official
submission for consideration when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences selects the nominees for Best Foreign-Language Film. From
a pool that includes Grandpa Is Dead and 64 other films, only five will be chosen. But the local success has been what's mattered so much to Topacio.

"We
set out to only show the film for one week," Topacio says. But the
movie was such a sensation that it stayed in theaters for eight weeks.
"We did not expect that at all."