The following article isn’t a review per se; but a subjective recounting of how Zig Marasigan had, quite shamelessly, cried like a baby while watching Jun Lana’s Bwakaw.
Consider this a spoiler-heavy and absolutely self-indulgent ramble. Read on at your own risk.
It has been a little over a month since my dog had passed away.
Like most deaths in one’s life, there was little fanfare to the news. I had received the notice over a text message, and by the time I had arrived home, her body had been cleared.
When I asked what had happened, my mother simply replied, “Hindi lang siya nagising.”
I told no one else of the matter. In my mind, there was nothing left to say. I tried to recall memories from my dog’s long fourteen year old life, but nothing came to me.
I stared blankly at the spot where she used to lay and found my mind to be just as barren.
My dog was gone. Nothing I could say or do would change that.
But that’s the tragedy of death. It is fueled by such relentless inevitability and such ferocious certainty that no amount of care, health, or bargaining can escape it.
Rene (Eddie Garcia) understands that. He approaches the inevitability of his own death with a dispassionate foresight, a sort of wizened submission. He prepares for his passing like a dinner party he has no plans of attending.
He purchases a coffin which he eventually keeps in his house. He divvies his belongings and entrusts it to a local priest. But in his preparation for death, it becomes easy to see that Rene had forgotten how to live.
A fellow old timer, Zaldy (Soxy Topacio), asks Rene why he doesn’t spend his time trying to be happy.
To that he answers, “Hindi ko na kasi alam kung anong magpapasaya sa akin.”
It isn’t difficult to see why. Rene isn’t well loved in his small Laguna hometown. He has few friends, and no family. He is ill-tempered and venom-tongued.
And the only companions he has in his rotting and lifeless home are a supposedly miraculous statue of Jesus Christ and his dog, Bwakaw (Princess).
Rene’s relationship with Bwakaw is an odd one; not much unlike an old married couple whose affection has devolved into an endearing form of banter. But in this case, the banter is one sided. Bwakaw carries with her an innocent silence; replying to Rene’s verbal jabs with but the wag of her tail and the fullness of her eyes.
Ironically, in Rene’s fervent preparation for his passing, it isn’t he who is the first to go. When Bwakaw is diagnosed with an untreatable cancer, Rene is desperate to save the life of his faithful companion. But it only becomes a matter of time.
Despite accepting the inevitability of his own death; Rene finds it hard to accept the inevitability of Bwakaw’s.
During Bwakaw’s last moments, Rene takes the opportunity to say goodbye. It was then that I envied Rene.
I didn’t envy him for his wasted and friendless life. I envied him for having that one last moment before the end.
All I got was a text message.
I don’t ever remember crying so hard in a theater like I did that night. Amidst a sold out gala screening at the CCP, I was sobbing uncontrollably in my seat. Like the lead character of an ill-written soap opera, the realization struck me like a fist to a pea.
I missed my dog.
I missed her so fucking much.
And try as I might to keep that bottled in the back of my mind, director Jun Lana and his team managed to wrestle that out of me. I was reminded once again of the power of cinema. The cathartic nature of the silver screen not only for its makers, but for its viewers. The magic of communicating something fictional, but crafting it in a way that expresses something real.
When my friends later asked what happened, it was then that I took the opportunity to tell them for the first time—
—My dog died.
In the final frame of the film, we watch Rene walk down a long winding road towards an unknown destination.
He walks away from the film alive and well, but if there’s anything that the film imparts to its audience, it’s that even this isn’t an absolute. Death comes for all of us eventually—even Rene—and soon, even he will have to face the certainty of his own demise.
But the strength of Bwakaw isn’t in allowing us to confront our own mortality. Rather, it is a film that allows us to confront the mortality of those we love. As we prepare ourselves to leave this life, we sometimes forget to prepare ourselves for those who will leave ahead of us.
I once remember joking openly about taking my own life. That was when a friend quickly set me straight, catching the bit of shrouded sincerity in my voice.
“Sa tingin mo ba ikaw yung mahihirapan kapag namatay ka?”
In the end, we grieve not for those who have left us, but for those of us who have been left behind.
The passing of my dog had a profound effect on me. It still does. But it wasn’t until Bwakaw that I realized just how much.
Rene had called his dog Bwakaw because that’s what she was. Voracious. Insatiable.
I called my dog, Dog, because that’s what she was. A dog.
But she was my Dog.
PARA SA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Tangina. Kakamatay din kasi ng aso ko, kaya naka-relate ako. ‘Yon.