Written by Jun Robles Lana
Directed by Jun Robles Lana
Bwakaw is a movie full of quiet surprises, and the great pleasure of watching it results from the matter-of-fact way the script leisurely unfurls its secrets and piles layer upon layer on what initially appears to be an uncomplicated story. At first glance, Rene (Eddie Garcia) seems like your standard grumpy old man bitter about how life has treated him, but then comes the somewhat unexpected revelation that Rene is gay and his grumpiness isn’t just part of his personality but it stems from a lifetime of denial and deferred happiness considering he only came to terms with his sexuality very late in life.
Now in his seventies, Rene has stopped putting off happiness and has just given up on it. He focuses all his energy on performing a job he’s already retired from and preparing for his eventual demise. Rene has drawn up his will with the help of the neighborhood priest. He’s already purchased his coffin, which he then is forced to store in his living room after the funeral home where he acquired it goes out of business. And he’s taken all his earthly possessions and packed them into plain brown boxes labeled with the names of the inheritors to whom he’s bequeathed them.
The one thing that brings Rene any semblance of joy is interacting with Bwakaw, a stray mutt that attached herself to the old man. Rene isn’t very affectionate with Bwakaw. He doesn’t pet her for instance, but one is seldom seen without the other. When cancer threatens Bwakaw’s life, a real love story emerges. It may be aching with grief, but Rene rediscovers his heart, and some tenderness can’t help spilling over into his other relationships.
Rene behaves most sympathetically during his visits with his old friend Alicia (Armida Siguion Reyna), an old love interest whom he kept on the hook for countless years unable to admit to her or himself that he couldn’t return her affections. Alicia suffers from dementia now, but she uses her one fleeting moment of clarity to release Rene of his guilt and any obligation to her. Despite these scenes of gravitas, Bwakaw maintains an overall tone of lightness thanks largely to the amusing performances of supporting characters like Zaldy (Soxie Topacio), a flamboyant hairdresser and Rene’s oldest friend, and Zaldy’s partner Tracy (Joey Paras).
Zaldy does his utmost to encourage Rene to stop complaining and enjoy what life he has left. He even makes gifts of teenage prostitutes in an attempt to inject some excitement into his old friend’s solitary existence, gifts that Rene thankfully dismisses. Tracy and Rene butt heads more often than they see eye to eye, but when circumstances start to look dire, Tracy betrays a genuine fondness for the old man.
Most of Rene’s friendships have their ups and downs, and none more so than the one he forms with tricycle driver Sol (Rez Cortez). Rene meets Sol when he engages his services for a ride into town, but when Sol tries to overcharge him for having a dog in the cab a feud erupts between the two. However, the day Bwakaw falls sick, it is Sol who rushes the pair to the vet and stays to comfort Rene after the sad diagnosis. Sol’s kindness also does its part to reinvigorate Rene’s passion for life. But in the end, their relationship comes full circle when the old man misinterprets Sol’s attentions for something more.
The strength of the script resides in the nimble way it fluctuates between sincere meditative drama and outrageous comedy. Writer/director Jun Robles Lana makes excellent use of gallows humor, sight gags, stock characters, and well-handled sentimentality. Bwakaw comprises a hundred amazing little details, the sum of which equals something quite unique and wonderful. One such detail involves Rene’s odd bedmate, a life-size iconic statue of Jesus that once belonged to his mother and his neighbor believes to be miraculous.
Rene’s life is full of tiny miracles and dashes of local color. For all his acerbity and efforts to stay isolated, he has managed to assemble a surrogate family who truly care for and accept him warts and all. Eddie Garcia, in his role as the cantankerous Rene, makes every minute of screen time count, and the script manages Rene’s life-affirming tale with great dignity and the perfect amount of levity.
The New York Film Festival celebrates 50 years and runs from September 28 to October 14, 2012. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s official site.