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Vancouver Queer Film Festival: Bwakaw

A bitter old man and his happy-go-lucky dog

In Bwakaw, a curmudgeonly man (Eddie Garcia) waits for death, until a stray dog reminds him how to live. Credit: Courtesy of Vancouver Queer Film Festival

Meet Rene, a curmudgeonly lapsed Catholic who routinely makes his way to work at a post office (but only to fill the time: he’s past retirement age and no longer paid). He’s supremely rude to co-workers and his only neighbour in the jungly Philippine area where he’s lived for seven decades. He claims alcohol as his only friend.

As for the other queers in the village (a salon proprietor/pimp named Mother and her fabulous Beyoncé-worshipping stylist, Tracy), Rene takes almost perverse pleasure in serving them insults and picking fights.

He resides in a ramshackle house full of packed boxes, makes changes to his will, and awaits death’s arrival. And he wrestles with his own guilt, visiting senile Alicia as penitence (convinced his lukewarm feelings damaged this girlfriend of 15 years).

Constantly aware that he’s “a gay man whose time has passed,” Rene is overrun with regret. Having not come out until he was 60 and sexually inactive before then, he’s nothing if not certain that he’s wasted much (if not all) of his adulthood. Sex and love have eluded him, and he has no one to blame but his own cowardice.

With Bwakaw, Filipino writer/director Jun Lana’s eighth film (shot in just 10 days and the 2012 Philippine selection for Best Foreign Language Oscar) handles his theme of a life of unfulfilled promise with a deft hand, entwining smart — and welcome — moments of comedy and farce (involving a gag with a casket, a co-worker who dies wearing an expression like a “chicken’s butt,” and so on) with Rene’s gradual and not entirely successful efforts to change his unsmiling ways.

In an interview, the director remarked on the crazy mixture of tones: he “wanted the film to reflect the Philippine sense of humour and culture. Even when we deal with tragedy and sadness, we don’t take things too seriously.”

Strangely, the catalyst for all this change is a cute stray dog named Bwakaw. While Rene characteristically complains about her and treats her with grudging care, her sweetness and general zest for life affects him.

And when Bwakaw later develops cancer and dies in Rene’s bed, he realizes that there’s still opportunity for . . . well, to start, hair dye and a tough cab driver. That his new strategy doesn’t go quite according to plan only adds poignancy to Lana’s bittersweet vision of the possibilities within anyone’s life.