JPaul S. Manzanilla
Arresting in its simplicity, Ralston Jover’s Da Dog Show confounds as it mesmerizes, proving that an austerity in form can offer the richest of subjects.
We begin on the street with father, daughter, and son displaying the tricks that their dogs Habagat (also the term for “southwest monsoon”) and Bagwis (also a Tagalog word for “feather”) play. The audience observes that the show is nothing astounding, only a demonstration of the dogs’s literacy and submissiveness. This is what sustains the family, whose misery is palpable when we see them living in a mausoleum at the country’s biggest public cemetery.
It appears that the mother’s absence and her taking of the youngest child Eddie Boy are what wound them more gravely. The already-adult daughter Celia has no support in attending to her physical nature. Son Alvin forsakes the exam for the more-immediate need to earn when the father gets ill. In one scene, a blossoming attraction to a girl is suddenly postponed because he doesn’t have a phone. He later on procures one, to contact the girl and his mother, who later on calls but terminates the conversation upon hearing her husband. The ailing father fails to provide for the family’s upkeep. The mother becomes present only in her disappearance; by way of active repression, her husband executes an exorcism by declaring to the census-taker that she has long died. This state of injury they try to heal by taking Eddie Boy back from the custody of the mother’s relatives. Here, the confrontation of morality acting as maternal prerogative and law purportedly negotiating rights is at its subtlest. They were able to recover the beloved son, only to lose Habagat when the father attended to nature’s call.
Magic develops in working out otherworldly possibilities that support—not falsifies—Celia’s conception of reality. Her nervous condition takes a stab at the fragility of sanity which they all maintain amidst scarcity and the mother’s phantom presence. Should one claim that poverty does not preclude one from securing respect? A flip side of the same idealist coin, this supposition essentially dehumanizes the poor more because their condition is denied—and more so, its causes—before valuing their struggles, which are only individualized, after all. Or that they are fated to be poor because they appear more human(e) when they are miserable? There is a light that never goes out.
Bereft of overdramatization, the screenplay strokes the very foundation of the viewer’s emotions. It does not cajole; it does not pander; it does not taunt. It makes us suspend our empathy lest we rob the family of their dignity. Lou Veloso is dazzling in a self-effacing performance.
We end on the bus on the streets and roads plying the long journey from a dark night in Southern Tagalog to Manila with the son recovered, but with the dog Habagat missing. They are returning to the troubled street and deathly space of their residence. Is the supplement that is the dog dispensable or necessary? Are they now whole or still incomplete? Will Habagat’s specter be banished or will it haunt them until forever?