Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jun Lana's Bwakaw - Small Town Hilarity

Rene (Eddie Garcia) is a grumpy old man living the twilight years of his life in solitude. With no family to speak of, he is in a protracted wait for his eventual demise. In fact, he has already bought himself a coffin (“Para ‘di ako ibalot sa banig”). His spare time is spent arranging his old magazine collection with idol Nora Aunor on the cover; getting free haircuts at a childhood friend’s beauty salon; volunteering for odd jobs at the Post Office where he used to work prior to his retirement; giving his best friend Alicia (who’s suffering from dementia) an occasional visit at a care home; and continuously updating his last will through an indulgent priest, Father Eddie (Gardo Versoza). Unlike most people his age, he doesn’t desire the “eternal life with God”. He detests “God” for making him gay, something that he belatedly accepted at the age of 60. In his advancing age, Rene has yet to experience intimacy, yet he refuses the young guys pimped by his childhood friend Zaldy (Soxy Topacio), the beauty salon owner.

But Rene isn’t so alone. A mongrel (stray dog) he calls “Bwakaw” has found her home in the querulous old man. Wherever he goes, Bwakaw follows. Rene is warming up to his amorous companion. Moreover, a miraculous Santo Entierro (a life-sized wooden statue hand crafted from Paete) lies beside him in his bed.  

One day, he befriends Sol (Rez Cortez), a finicky pedicab driver, who took him to a veterinarian when Bwakaw fell ill. Abdominal tumors were discovered. When the doctor suggested that Bwakaw be put to sleep, Rene balks. He takes her home to “recuperate”. Soon, Rene gets chummy with Sol who starts to help the geriatric gentleman repair his dilapidated abode. One day, he finds the burly (and happily married) trike driver asleep in his sala. Without much provocation, he steals a kiss on Sol’s lips. Sol wakes up and runs amuck. To make matters worse, Bwakaw’s condition worsens. She starts moving blood. What will Rene do? 

Director Jun Lana’s dramedy is a brilliant character study that pays homage to Lana’s mentor (playwright and children’s book author) Rene O. Villanueva. In fact, he based the story from the popular author’s character. More than homage, Lana weaves a tale rich with snippets of both unbridled hilarity and regulated emotional bearing. These small town attachments are so palpable you can’t help but sympathize with the plight of each character: parloristas Zaldy (endearing Soxy Topacio) and feisty Tracy (the amazing Joey Paras); fanatical neighbor Nitang (Beverly Salviejo); maton tricycle driver Sol (Rez Cortez); lonely mother Melba (Luz Valdez); and former girlfriend Alicia (Armida Siguion-Reyna). Each one is written with well moderated scenes. These characters helped move the narrative to an engaging finish without overwhelming the flick with needless character embellishment.  

Endearing scenes will easily thrust this flick among other crowd favorites. In fact, the temperament is similar to Topacio’s “Ded na si Lolo” – light, breezy, intimate, hilarious, and at times even sentimental. The scene involving Rene while he sleeps in his coffin - and Zaldy, Tracy and Nitang’s unexpected visit had me laughing so hard. Ditto to scenes at the beauty parlor with Rene hitting Tracy’s nose with a hair blower. Also, there’s Melba’s surprise party (she’s set to have her by-pass operation prior to joining her daughter in Canada) – and how she was given her “special” make-up and hair design after the celebrations. The film easily shifts to somber or warm, emotive moments, like the first night Rene lights up his ramshackle home – or when he finally allows the loyal canine up his home.

I didn’t expect much from Bwakaw because the impression it emits is one resonating with indulgent sentimentality. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The film actually avoids maudlin sentimentality and by doing so, finds its perfect atmosphere. Eddie Garcia is simply marvelous as the late-blooming homosexual. He masterfully circumvents the stereotypical picture of a washed up faggot. We last saw his brilliance in “I.C.U. Bed #7” and we feel honored to witness a level of artistry achieved only by years of insightful experience. Garcia is exquisite in his grief and cantankerous manner. He is delight nonpareil. Another out-of-the-box portrayal is turned in by Joey Paras, adorable and downright entertaining as Tracy, Rene’s “nemesis”. Paras evades exaggerations, a common pitfall for cinematic gay characters. Mostly, the ensemble is well tempered and unforgettable.

Bwakaw” thoroughly entertains so please do yourself a favor. Don't miss it! The film deftly shares insights on how a solitary, but productive life is lived. More importantly, it inspires the hopeless soul.

Rene argues with Tracy and Mother Zaldy.

Rene finds a "best friend" in a stray dog he calls Bwakaw (the dog's real name is Princess who's brilliantly trained).

Rene and Alicia

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