Ang mga karaniwang taong nadadaanan mo sa kanto araw-araw ay may sari-sariling kuwento. ‘Da Dog Show’ is one such story. Kapag pinanood mo, bubuksan ang isip mo ng pelikulang ito na hinangaan ng mga critics sa buong mundo at kasali sa Cannes L’Atelier noong 2012.
SYNOPSIS: A dog trainer battles a harsh poverty-stricken, sickness-riddled, critical world with two loyal dogs, a mentally impaired daughter, and an adolescent son to claim his youngest child from an absentee mother. Despite their group’s peculiarity, they struggle to still be together, but not without the greatest sacrifice.
GENRE: Drama, Family, Magical Realism
DIRECTOR & WRITER: Ralston Jover
CAST: Lou Veloso | Mercedes Cabral | Aljon Ibañez | Micko Laurente | Simon Ibarra | Almira Alcid | Cherry Malvar | Oj Mariano | Flor Salanga | Menchie Diaz Tabije
Flawed individuals, when bonded by a common goal, make a whole.
“The Dog Show” captures the enduring story of dog trainer Sergio’s family as they perform daily dog shows in the streets of Manila. Early on, the viewers are informed of the desertion of the mother and the clear goal to take the youngest child back into their home.
Basing on the title alone, viewers sensitive to animal welfare may assume how this could be another run-off-the-mill story of an owner’s relationship with his pets. Getting the two dogs “Habagat” and “Bagwis” caught by the city pound and seeing a nearby boiling pot as they are claimed may even seem like a foreshadowing of their impending doom. As the film goes on, however, what we were slowly invited into is a world where this peculiar group of people and pets are constantly judged and forced to adapt to live decently in their own little worlds. What we slowly realize is that the characters themselves have to struggle pretty much like dogs to survive.
The characters are rich with their own motivations and internal struggles. For Sergio (Lou Veloso), family is everything. This is clearly portrayed in a dinner scene where he insisted on laying down utensils for the absent youngest child, Eddie Boy (Micko Laurente), and chose to feed the two dogs first on the same table before feeding himself. Veloso’s acting is spot-on and authentic, helping convince the viewers to see the many faces of his character.
Celia (Mercedes Cabral) is an enigma of fantasy and reality. The film’s use of magic realism as a device helps the viewers see what Celia’s mind conjures. Scenes where Celia is shown at her happiest alone or with other kids playing makes us realize that doing the dog shows with her father is a role or a sacrifice she is making despite her condition. She longs for her mother; a theme repeated using a family of cats in the film. She also dreams to become a manicurista or nail professional like her mother. While her father seems to talk to the dogs more gently than to her, Celia does not falter as the motherly figure in the family. Through these, Cabral’s portrayal of the mentally impaired Celia shows confounding talent beyond the roles she previously played.
The second child, Alvin (Aljon Ibañez), is a budding, experimental adolescent whose problems revolve around fitting into his teen world. He wants what most teens want: acceptance. To achieve this, he opens up about getting a mobile phone for the meager price of P1,000, which their poor family can’t even afford. Like many teens, he tells white lies to get his way. At one pivotal moment where he did have the chance to get his way, the story focused on his concern for his father’s welfare that he bought medicine for his father first. He is flawed and in an age where he can easily be misunderstood, and yet, he puts his family above all.
This film also showed us the other side to a family. While their small group, pets, and neighbors try their best to help each other by sharing what little they have, some characters in the film are less sympathetic to their plight. A neighbor berates Sergio early on and blames him for his wife’s desertion. Sergio’s sister-in-law refuses to have him claim his youngest child for financial reasons.
This movie wastes no time in building rich characters in interesting settings. The street of Manila is easily recognizable with scenes of the bay, children, students, and dating couples. The broken patches of dry land that Sergio, Celia, and “Habagat” had to cross to get to the youngest child reinforce their journey across poverty. The mausoleum where Sergio’s family live adds a layer of grit into the already close ties their condition have with loss and death.
Speaking of which, certain scenes also invite us into a paradox about life and death, which is that we choose and pay for our own poison or escape. Without being unnecessarily preachy, we see Sergio insisting getting drunk despite his sickly condition. Another character selling herbal products is shown with a hankering for a cigarette.
This film is rather eloquent and unapologetic when it comes to symbols. Through dream sequences, the writer flashed different symbols that signify the depth of the characters and their struggles. In Celia’s dream, we saw a white peacock, a symbol of change and hope, a pivotal moment in the plot as we imagine that something will change for the family.
Technical aspects of the movie also contributed to the film’s overal grit. It experiments on a variety of camera movements to guide the viewer’s focus. Magic realism as a device is surprising at first but is apparently helpful to the plot. This film treats our eyes to cinematic shots of sunsets and the rustic beauty of the city.
The story’s resolution is tight and smooth. It catches you off-guard with a harrowing sacrifice that is further made more interesting by the varying stories of Celia and another character. Finally, their half-hearted decision to catch the leaving bus despite the loss is a perfect metaphor for life. Like the bus, it marches forward without waiting for anyone and it’s your choice to hop in or be left behind to mourn for your loss. ♦