Starring a six-decade-plus veteran of Filipino cinema, and dedicated to esteemed playwright Rene O. Villanueva (writer-helmer Jun Robles Lana’s late mentor), “Bwakaw” gives grumpy-old-man par excellence. Tale of an elderly, curmudgeonly villager’s relationship with his dog, as well as his difficulty connecting with individuals of the two-legged variety, is a quiet charmer that balances comedy and drama with a deft hand. Picked as the Philippines’ foreign-language Oscar submission, this endearing pic should travel widely on the fest circuit and score some offshore theatrical exposure before moving to home formats, where its gay content will be a marketing plus.
Rene (Eddie Garcia) lives alone in a roomy but decrepit house that has gathered dust and cobwebs since his mother died some years earlier. An ornery sort immune to the overtures of his likewise old and single neighbor (Beverly Salviejo), he’s retired, but continues to work without pay at the local post office, for lack of much else to occupy his time. His one companion is the titular skinny mutt, a stray he allows to tag along but doesn’t let inside his home.
Lana’s script unfolds in leisurely fashion, yet contains a fair amount of incident. There arise serious health issues for both Bwakaw and one of Rene’s co-workers, who had been on the verge of joining her expat family in Toronto. Rene pays rest-home visits to longtime friend Alicia (Armida Siguion Reyna), who, to his dismay, no longer remembers who he is, and develops a surprising new alliance with rough-hewn but genial bicycle-taxi driver Sol (Rez Cortez).
On the more comedic side, the local funeral home’s closure awkwardly forces Rene to take home the coffin he’s already purchased for himself; he’s forever bothering the area priest (Gardo Versoza) with concerns unrelated to God; and he constantly spars with flamboyant hairdresser Zaldy (Soxie Topacio), a childhood pal, and Zaldy’s even queenier young protegee, Tracy (Joey Paras).
Gruff but good-hearted underneath it all, Rene faces his last years full of regret for having spent nearly his whole life denying he, too, was gay — and when he finally came out at age 60, “my time was passed.” An ill-advised, drunken pass at another man goes badly. But “Bwakaw” is too delicate-minded to collapse into gay-bashing melodrama, just as it treats humor and pathos elsewhere with exactly the right affectionate restraint.
Eighty-three-year-old industry icon Garcia delivers a pitch-perfect, salty but touching turn. Assembly is thoughtful down the line for what’s not just an obvious labor of love, but a personal best for prolific writer, helmer and TV-series creative director Lana.