TWO NOTABLE entries in the 8th Cinemalaya festival of independent movies tackled the uncinematic subject of loneliness: one from the point of view of an old man who has come out quite late in life and tries to alleviate the oppressive loneliness of his late years by dotting on a stray mongrel he has saved from the streets; and another from the vantage point of soldiers stationed on the Kalayaan islands off Palawan in the Spratlys, the group of islands in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea which has become a flashpoint between several countries which are laying claim to it.

Bwakaw, written and directed by Jun Robles Lana, a Communication Arts graduate of UST, tells the story of a grumpy, old man, Rene (Eddie Garcia), who has prepared well for his death by entrusting his last will and testament to the local priest and buying a coffin from the funeral parlor’s summer sale. Alienated from the locals because of his cranky ways, he finds companionship in a stray dog whom he has christened “Bwakaw” (Filipino slang for voracious), because of its hearty appetite.

Jaded and made doubly bitter for having come out of the closet when he was already 60, Rene spends most of his days inside his decrepit house where the Santo Entierro, a human-sized statue of the dead Christ believed to be miraculous, lies beside him in bed. He regularly visits his old flame (Armida Siguion-Reyna), who’s confined in a home for the aged.

When Bwakaw falls ill of cancer, Rene seeks medical help from vet doctors in and out of town. He’s brought to the clinics by Sol (Rez Cortez), a tricycle driver. Slowly Rene falls in love with him, but finds out transitions don’t pan out easily especially when one is old and homosexual. In the end, Rene realizes he should have had a hearty appetite for life, like his dog Bwakaw.

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The subject matter of loneliness is given a light touch by many comic scenes. Eddie Garcia gives a spectacular performance of a man struggling with his sexuality and mortality.

Lana was awarded the Rector’s Literary Award in the Ustetika Literary Awards, organized by the Varsitarian, back in his student days in UST. He is the creative consultant of GMA Network and is the youngest writer to have been inducted into the Palanca Hall of Fame for having won five first prizes in the annual national literary derby,

Kalayaan (Wildlife) is a about a Filipino soldier stationed in the Kalayaan who gets marooned there when a coup breaks out in Manila. Soon, he’s joined by Lucio and Eric, who at first seem to alleviate his loneliness. But the two unknowingly bring up the horrors of the past that had made Julian want to escape the island in the first place.

Set in Kota Island in Kalayaan, the film is notable for having Laotian-Australian actor Ananda Everingham as Julian.(Everingham is known internationally for the Thai horror film, Shutter) and for having Japanese actress Kiki Sugino playing a mermaid.

Adolfo Alix, Jr., who wrote and directed the film, said that the inspiration for his film were actual soldiers stationed in the Spratly Islands. He explained he had interviewed the soldiers and through this film, he wanted to capture their loneliness and struggles.

With its breathtaking cinematography, the film shows the lonely beauty of the Kalayaan, the lush greens of the mangrove forest, and the pitiful condition of the shanty the soldiers call home. Everingham and the other actors, such as Zanjoe Marudo and Luis Alandy, have only a few speaking lines and their expressions effectively etch the sense of loneliness that the film wants to put across.

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But the slow pacing makes the movie dawdling at times and the sudden rush of dialogue in the end obviously to close and wind the film may have impaired the aura of mystery the film wants to convey.

Despite the lapses, Kalayaan is effective in making the audience appreciate the soldiers’ solitude in the Spratly Islands.

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