VQFF Review: Bwakaw

Bwakaw is a gorgeous movie about loss, regret and hope, a touching reminder that it’s never too late to start living.

Bwakaw is a gorgeous movie about loss, regret and hope, a touching reminder that it’s never too late to start living.

Meet Rene, a curmudgeonly old man living in a small town not too far from Manila. A retired janitor at the local post office, he still comes in to work every day in spite of barely tolerating his coworkers because hey, it beats sitting at home by himself. In fact, his home isn’t much to look at: it’s old and kind of decrepit, filled with boxes he’s never opened, with no furniture except a table and a bed—the latter half-occupied by a supposedly-miraculous statue of Christ he inherited from his mother.

Rene’s grumpiness is at first only played for laughs, but underneath there’s deep pain: he came out very late in life, has never been in love, has never even kissed another man. Though he regrets all the missed opportunities, he now feels he’s too old for love; so he’s resigned to his lot in life, to be alone amongst a bunch of loons and idiots, and reserves all his affection for his loyal dog Bwakaw who he takes everywhere he goes.

It’s Bwakaw that causes an argument with taxi driver Sol. Sol wants to charge Rene double for the extra passenger (ie: the dog), but Rene only tells him to piss off. Their paths keep crossing, with their squabble flaring up in increasingly funny ways (Sol puts up a “No dogs” sign on his windshield? Rene responds by holding up a “No baldies” sign by the side of the road—Sol is pretty sparse on top despite being in his thirties). However, the hatchet is buried when Bwakaw falls ill and Sol drives Rene to the vet.

It turns out Bwakaw has very advanced cancer; Rene never suspected since he hardly ever touched her and she never complained. At this point there’s nothing for the devastated Rene to do except give Bwakaw regular painkillers and make her as comfortable as possible until the end.

Oddly, in every other way this seems to be a time of positive change for Rene. He loosens up quite a bit; reconciles with his only gay friend (a very fey hairdresser) and even agrees to colour his hair brown to cover the grey, which looks great; Sol sticks around to help repaint the house and do other odd jobs. The two chat late into the night, and Rene discovers he has feelings for him. While Sol is sleeping, Rene tenderly starts stroking his face, and plants a couple of light kisses on his lips. But then Rene wakes up and… doesn’t take it well. Rene is left alone. Again.

Bwakaw dies soon after, but for Rene this isn’t the end. He unpacks all his boxes, bringing out flowerpots, drapes, rugs, all sorts of lovely knickknacks, and his house becomes what it should have been all along: a colourful, inviting, well-lit home. And then he leaves for a walk, taking only a walking stick. He should look lonely without Bwakaw, but there’s a certain spring in his step, and he looks free: free to explore, free to hope that there’s more to life than regret and waiting to die.

The very last scene has Rene on the road, walking along, and a taxi passes by. I think it’s meant to be Sol’s taxi; if it is, Rene pays it no mind. He’s fucked up with Sol, and that can’t be undone. But that’s life; you fuck up every once in a while, and then you move on. That’s Bwakaw‘s message, and it’s an uplifting one. No matter what your situation, no matter what you’ve done or left undone, it’s never to late to start fresh.