Jun Lana started his career in film writing screenplays for directors Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Maryo J. de los Reyes, among others. In the several years where the country was starving for quality films, he penned films like Diaz-Abaya's Sa Pusod ng Dagat (In the Navel of the Sea, 1998), Jose Rizal (1998), and Muro-ami (1999), tasteful alternatives to the crass, titillating films that were being produced by the dozens.
Interestingly, Gigil (2006), Lana's directorial debut, capitalized largely on babes clad in bikinis, parading both their bodies and loose morals in the beach. He then dabbled in various other genres, directing disposable horrors like Mag-ingat ka sa... Kulam (2008) and Tarot (2009) and sleazy dramas like Roxxxanne (2007) and My Neighbor's Wife (2011) for various studios and producers. The career of Lana became a prime example of initial promise gone wrong. His latest, Bwakaw, seems to be his belated apology for the misdirection of his career.
Bwakaw is about Rene, a gay old man (Eddie Garcia) who only came out of the closet when he's already very old and is now coping with the loneliness dealt by his delayed decision. The film is movingly sincere. Lana molds Rene not from stereotype but from accurate perceptions of how a man would be had he lived his life as a lie and decided only to admit his reality when he barely has any years left to enjoy it. Garcia understands the specific nuances of the character he's portraying. He does not pepper his portrayal with gags and cheap imitations. Instead, he allows his performance to be subtle and low-key, resulting in what essentially is a quiet triumph in acting.
Lana smartly plays Rene's repulsion towards his friends and acquaintances as the core of the film's humor. He also purposefully manifests Rene's repressed guilt with a beautiful sideplot involving a failed romance. While the film's depiction of an old man's loneliness is already astute and affecting, it still forces more storylines than the film's elegant pacing can manage. The result is a screenplay that is a bit too busy and a bit too lenient to the many contrivances in plotting.
The screenplay's excesses are thankfully grounded by Lana's surprisingly restrained direction. Set in San Pablo, the film remarkably incorporates a very provincial laidback appreciation of time, perhaps the only thing that both tortures and gives hope to the film's impossible protagonist. A less sensitive director would rush to forward the story, relish in the big dramatic moments, and exploit the storyline of the titular dog. Lana, on the other hand, allows the story to crawl, to stagger and earn the emotions that have been repressed by the abundance of silence and the occasional jokes.
Delightfully unhurried, Bwakaw manages to make stretches of quietude and nothingness both entertaining and meaningful. It also helps that the film's images are composed, lighted, and framed exquisitely. The music is sparse but elaborate, starting with light strumming of a native instrument before evolving into something more hopeful, following the eventual restoration of Rene's faith in life.
The film's final frame, a long shot of a street where Rene is walking as a former flame drives his tricycle by totally ignoring the old man, is painfully lovely. It depicts a life where fairy tale endings do not exist especially for people who are most susceptible to melancholy yet notwithstanding that, living it still seems to be the most gratifying choice.
(Review originally published when the film screened at Cinemalaya 2012 in July.)