Sep 252012
Eddit Garcia as Rene

Lacking the special effects and marquee names of Hollywood blockbusters, independent filmmakers start their work at a disadvantage. When Jun Robles Lana decided to tell the story, in Tagalog, of a lonely, 75-year-old gay man, he knew he had a particularly tough challenge on his hands.

“Gay stories don’t sell in the Philippines,” he said of his film, “Bwakaw.” “And it’s a movie about growing old.”

But “Bwakaw,” which opened across the country this month, is already sparking attention internationally. Last week, it was selected to represent the Philippines as the best foreign-language submission for the Academy Awards. In addition to its domestic theatrical run, it has hit the festival circuit, screening in Toronto last week and heading to New York and Hawaii next month.

The movie stars Eddie Garcia, a popular Filipino actor, as Rene, a curmudgeon with a sensitive side who didn’t come out of the closet until he was 60 and now faces old age alone. Rene occupies his time talking to his dog, Bwakaw (which rhymes with “Macau” and translates to “voracious” or “greedy”), hanging out with a gay couple who run a hair salon and visiting an elderly nursing-home resident (Armida Siguion-Reyna) who is eventually revealed to be a former sweetheart. (“Forgive me,” he tells her in one poignant scene, “for making you love me back then. I made you hope and believe that I loved you.”)

Mr. Robles Lana, who turns 40 next month, wanted to address “everyone’s fear about growing old and missed chances,” he said. It’s an atypical venture into art-house cinema for the director, who directs commercially minded movies such as the 2009 horror flick “Tarot.” He wanted to capture the sadness and silence of aging, “but at same time I didn’t want the film to be bleak. I used humor to break the silences,” he said.

To attract moviegoers in the Philippines, “Bwakaw” is being marketed as a comedy, with ads and trailers highlighting its lighter moments, including an upbeat poster that shows Bwakaw perched on Rene’s shoulder. Producers thought it would be an “easier sell,” Mr. Robles Lana said, noting that locally made comedies and horror movies dominate the country’s box office.

Hopefully, “audiences will discover it is more than a comedy,” he said.

Mr. Robles Lana drew inspiration from his real-life teacher and mentor Rene Villanueva, a playwright who died in 2007 and who also came out of the closet late in life. “He was a colorful character, harsh and generous at the same time,” he said. “My greatest fear was forgetting him, and I wanted to do a project to honor him.”

Dean Napolitano