‘BWAKAW’ : John L. Silva’s Take On Cinemalaya 8’s Indie Hit

If there’s a reason for Cinemalaya’s existence, it’s because of films like Bwakaw.

While commercial production companies are figuring out how many buckets of tears or how much tits and ass to show, independent companies that just want to tell a story can go to Cinemalaya and get the airing and later for the money.

Hetero movies are plentiful and mostly bad so finding a good gay movie is like seeking the Holy Grail. In a youth conscious society, gay movies have been obsessed with coming out issues for those in puberty or those just embarking on love. We’ve advanced from the slew of earlier gay movies where the hero has to commit suicide or die, the implication being that to be gay, well… you have to die.

So here comes a movie about an old gay man who never fell in love coming out at age 60. And he’s unlikeable to boot but has only a faithful dog to at least hint at that he’s a nice guy. All set in a sleepy province. A death wish for the producers? No, it’s the most poignant and honest movie of the century. And it’s going to reap awards and fame and money.

Rene (Eddie Garcia) now probably in his seventies is a loser. He obsesses with constantly updating his will on which friend gets his personal effects and passes the list on to the local priest who exasperatingly, follow his wishes. Despite being retired from the post office Rene still reports for work doing menial tasks just so he feels productive. Being increasingly a curmudgeon, he’s now fighting with his longtime gay hairdresser friends despite their efforts to please him with boy toy offerings. In the end it’s his mutt Bwakaw that becomes his companion and limited talk mate.

The plot continues with hysterical black comedy moments like the sudden death of a co-worker and later, Bwaka being struck with cancer. The one other constant devotion to his life is his regular visit to an elderly lady friend who’s losing her memory in an old folks home. During a rare lucid moment where she has her marbles, he confesses a terrible wrong she did to her many years back. He had carried on a charade of being her boyfriend for 15 years all because he didn’t want to let on to people he was gay. Now she’s in a home and without family except the occasional visit of a guilt-ridden Rene.

There is a thuggish chubby tricycle driver named Sol (Rez Cortez) who’s been a pain not allowing Bwakaw to ride which is unforgivable for Rene so they have silly roadside spats until one day Rene needs a ride to the vet with his ailing Bwakaw and Sol relents.

Grateful Rene takes new friend Sol to lunch where he takes long serious glances up and down to the crotch of his Prince Charming.

One drunken evening Rene wakes to Sol beside him asleep. It’s the perfect moment and with just a slight hesitation Rene closes in on Sol’s lips. Does Sol respond in kind? Ah, you’ll have to see the movie.

The disturbing aspect is that as Rene makes his move close to Sol’s lips, the audience, much of them young people, start to scream like they were going to see something sick or they were going to be sick. It was disturbingly infantile to hear yucky sounds so I began to clap and cheer Rene on and shout Yes, Go For It and that muffled the crowd. For all our “liberal society” the hue and cry indicates we have a long way to go with affirming male affection among clueless kids.

Armida Siguion Reyna as the lady friend has the brief but poignant role of accepting Rene’s confession of being cheated of love. Siguion Reyna gently holds Rene’s cheek and compassionately releases his anguish by stating he was not just the only reason why she did not marry. She is adroit in her lie as she gently commands Rene not to come back to the nursing where “…there is care, but no love.”

There is the bizarre addition of a huge sculptured Christ, a Santo Entierro that Rene sleeps beside on a bed that his mother once slept in with the same sculpture. He sleeps with Christ more out of habit and-poo poohs the local tale that it has cured the sick. But when Bwakaw lay dying in bed, Rene pulls Christ’s blanket to share with Bwakaw. Just maybe.

With Bwakaw in dog heaven, a release from his cheating past, and his loins stirred one drunken night, there was only one recourse left for Rene and, happily, the right one. It will be gay days from hereon. Finally, a redemptive movie!

Speaking to the Director June Robles Lana, he confirmed to me that the story was based on the life of a Rene Villanueva. If there is something to quibble about, it’s the slightly disturbing caricature of the gay hairdressers who HAVE to ACT in the ludicrous manner we are wearied of. Which came first, one wonders, the baklas (queers) as acting innately silly or the Dolphy spawned queer character which haunts us to this day? As always, I recite the now tiresome mantra that since they are my gay tranny sisters I will defend their right to behave however they wish. But I sometimes feel I get the pressure to act that silly or else people won’t believe I’m gay!

I’ll spill the beans that the post-kiss between Rene and Sol didn’t go well as planned. Maybe Director Lana was just following what actually happened. But if one were to take liberties, the challenge could also be that an abiding friendship could have been developed, with hot sex, some sex, no sex, or just great pals doing mutual masturbation. The range of affection, even among males is infinite and I feel saddened that what was shown on screen was exactly the pathetic nightmare every hetero is haunted with. Here’s a thought. The parish priest, played by Gardo Versoza was somewhat a waste. He’s too gorgeous. Imagine if he played the tricycle driver!

But, hey, these are trifle thoughts. Because for me, this was the most incredible, touching, loving, and tender movie I have ever seen. And as a dog lover, animal rights went up many notches on this film. And as a heritage activist, this movie scores too on saving old houses? What? Just watch it. How wonderful to live the day that we can see the gay themed envelope pushed to greater distances and done with alacrity and sensitivity.

I write this consciously to finish and post before the awarding ceremonies tonight. I had a feeling deep inside me years back that the movie, Pagdalaga Ni Maximo Olivares about a boy falling in love with a cop, was going to win the Cinemalaya award. It did.

I feel the same for Bwakaw. So I’m saying it now. Either best picture, actor, director or all or other categories too. But big time.

Congratulations to the cast, crew, and producers. And many thanks again, visionary Tony Boy Cojuangco for founding Cinemalaya. Each year you widen how our people think and celebrate their humanity!


John L. Silva is a Philippine writer, arts and culture consultant, fundraiser, and blogger.  He is an expert on grant writing and advocacy writing, running ongoing workshops to train writers in these literary arts. His blog, JOHN’S THOUGHTS AND DEEDS, is a compilation of his well-crafted articles and announcements of his ongoing advocacy writing and grants writing workshops. He is a writer and lecturer on Philippine photographs. He wrote on the Geronimo Berenguer de los Reyes Museum collection of rare photographs for the January-February 1998 issue of the prestigious Hong Kong based magazine “Arts of Asia.” In May 2003 he delivered a lecture on the advent of Philippine photography in the 19th century at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila In the lecture he discussed the work of A. Honiss, Franco Van Kamp, Manuel Arias Rodriguez, W.W. Wood, Wood Hijos, and Felix Laureano. (wikipilipinas.org)

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