First, watch this.
Bwakaw, Jun Lana’s Cinemalaya entry for the Director’s Showcase category, is a dog story. And yet it’s more than a dog story. It’s about loneliness, regrets, unrequited love and death; things that make us weep and wallow in a shitty pool of existential crisis. It’s also about friendship, faith, unconditional loyalty and hope; things that make us get up in the morning and give life one more shot. The movie touches on these profound themes yet manages to still be funny and unpretentious.
The story centers on Rene (Eddie Garcia), an elderly gay man who lives alone with his dog named Bwakaw. His house is falling apart, the windows are boarded up, and most of his things are in boxes. He spends his life waiting to die and while at it, he’s perpetually grumpy, angry and mean.
Just when he was so caught up with preparing for his death, life throws him a curveball: he finds out his dog is the one that’s dying. He seemed unafraid to die but he’s scared of losing the only creature he truly loved and cared about.
Bwakaw’s deteriorating condition ironically enables Rene to find a new lease in life. He falls in love and gets his heart broken for the first time. He asks for forgiveness and finds release from guilt. He stumbles on faith and gives providence a chance. And finally, he opens his windows, takes his things out of their boxes, and starts to live. It’s a beautiful, hopeful story that finds humor in the face of death and hope in the midst of grief.
There are scenes in the movie though that came off as too contrived and predictable: a co-worker dying of stroke at her surprise party, Rene making a move on a friend (Rez Cortez) while they were both drunk and the latter was asleep.
Fortunately, there are more scenes that are sincere, honest and emotionally compelling: Rene regretting that he only came out of the closet when he was 60 years old, his former girlfriend (Armida Siguion-Reyna) forgiving him for their 15-year relationship built on pretense, and those simple, quiet moments with his dog that speak volumes on love, loyalty and unwavering friendship.
Jun Lana made this film as a tribute to the late Rene Villanueva, a multi-awarded playwright and children’s story writer. Villanueva wrote Nemo: Ang Batang Papel, which I first read when I was eight years old. It has been my favorite children’s book ever since. He was also the creative director of Batibot, an iconic children’s show that entertained and educated generations of Filipino kids.
I met Sir Rene once in college. It was for an interview for a personality profile assignment in my creative writing class. I was excited to finally talk to the author whose writing had a meaningful effect on my eight-year-old self. I was sitting in the faculty lounge waiting for him when he charged in and started yelling at me for something that wasn’t even my fault. He was furious and I was terrified.
He eventually calmed down and apologized for losing his temper, and we went ahead with the interview. He talked about his work, his books and his plays. I couldn’t remember much anymore about what he said exactly. But I do remember that he looked gaunt and listless; he sounded tired and sad. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was a wide-eyed college kid who expected children’s book authors to be perky and funny.
Sir Rene died a few years later. I don’t know if he found happiness in his last days or humor in the face of death. But I hope he had his own Bwakaw, a loving and loyal friend who enabled him to make the most out of life.
BWAKAW Screening Schedule:
11:00AM – TRINOMA Cinema 1
3:30PM – CCP MKP Hall
11:00AM – GREENBELT 3 Cinema 3
3:30PM – CCP STUDIO THEATRE ( Tanghalang Huseng Batute)
9:00PM – TRINOMA
4:00PM – GREENBELT 3 Cinema 3
9:00PM – CCP MAIN THEATRE (Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo)
6:15PM – CCP STUDIO THEATRE ( Tanghalang Huseng Batute)
6:30PM – GREENBELT 3 Cinema 3
3:30PM – CCP MAIN THEATRE (Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo)
6:15PM – CCP MKP Hall
1:30PM – GREENBELT 3 Cinema 5
6:15PM – CCP LITTLE THEATRE (Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino)
6:30PM – GREENBELT 3 Cinema 5
Calendar of film screenings here.