Cinemalaya 2012: Bwakaw

Homosexuality is a tricky film to tackle in a Filipino movie. Local moviegoers have seen the entire gamut of gay films, from the exploitative to the inspired. It is the one topic that a lot of filmmakers here want to tell stories about, whether or not these stories are actually worth telling. Bwakaw however luckily finds a way to present an unconventional homosexual story that has weight and substance, a tale that also ruminates on the anxieties of aging, the inevitability of mortality and the things we choose to leave behind. It is a well-written movie that has its moments of pure hilarity and sincere tenderness.

It is also a movie that sprawls too much. It feels like a condensed sitcom, where each subplot starts and gets resolved, leading to the next subplot, and on and on it goes. It’s a little too episodic, a little too choppy.  Even though the movie aims to achieve a sense of consistency in terms of character and theme, it doesn’t achieve it in its narrative structure.

Eddie Garcia’s potentially award-winning performance (I say potentially, what I’m actually doing is placing my bets) undoubtedly carries this entire film. As the grumpy old Rene, he is encumbered by guilt, regret and a life not fully lived. Along with him is his faithful dog Bwakaw. Because of his repressed sexuality that prevented him from finding a lifelong companion, he has transferred his love and affection to this dog. It is a sweet partnership to watch, and one not burdened by schmaltz and patronizing sap.

I liked how they incorporated his homosexuality in the plot. When he was revealed as gay, it wasn’t an event or a spectacle. It wasn’t meant to shock us, to make us gasp at this realization. Instead, everything was casually narrated without any fuss. It was disappointing therefore when this fully realized character became a little too predatory in the film’s final act. I found it lazy — an attempt to fall back on stereotypical depictions of old gay men in order to induce some narrative momentum.

The movie’s humor is satisfying, and the entire cabal of supporting characters provided moments of sheer joy. The portrayal of the idyllic barrio as a community of people who love and accept each other’s flaws was sweet without ever being saccharine. The movie would have benefited from better focus and tighter editing, but for what it is, it is sufficiently entertaining and occasionally touching.

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