DA DOG SHOW: HOOPS AND TRICKS FOR A DECENT LIFE
Ralston Jover’s “Da Dog Show” follows the efforts of Sergio (Lou Veloso), a dog trainer, to take back his son Eddie Boy (Micko Laurente) from his in-laws and reunite him with his sister Celia (Mercedes Cabral), his brother Alvin (Aljon Ibanez) and his two dogs, Bagwis and Habagat. While Sergio succeeds in bringing back Eddie Boy with him to his odd dwelling in a mausoleum in the Manila North Cemetery, his gain is not without some painful and bitter episode of separation and loss.
In the hands of director Ralston Jover, the tense outcome near the end where Sergio, Celia and Eddie Boy have to board the bus and accept the inevitable is staged with much empathy and understanding. Jover steers the gripping scene away from melodramatic close-ups and cuts to a long shot point of view that illustrates the dead-end route characters like Sergio are forced to take.
Jover’s decision to distance the audience from Sergio and his children’s pathos enables the audience to gain perspective on the circumstances of their poverty. The high angle shot of Sergio, Celia and Eddie Boy frantically calling out to Habagat underlies their helplessness and lack of agency. In a way, the incident along with other instances before it where Sergio struggles to support and protect his family accumulates to a type of dog show where the impoverished like Sergio go through many hoops and perform various tricks in order to eke out a decent means of living.
Jover’s use of the dog show as metaphor for the survival of the marginalized could have been communicated in a strident and brash manner but Jover wisely gives the concept a distinct treatment. Rather than prop up his premise with a didactic and polemical tirade against an ineffectual social welfare system, Jover delivers a thoughtful and engaging character-driven film. He infuses his characters with a palpable and refreshing humanism. Unlike their counterparts in other “poverty porn” films where slum folk are shown as repulsive denizens of a corrupt underworld, Jover’s characters are endearing and worth caring for. Jover foregrounds each individual’s quirks so that we can appreciate their personhood. For instance, every night when preparing the dinner table, Sergio sets aside food for the absent Eddie Boy, a sign of his hope for his return. Celia has her own beauty ritual involving the use of her mother’s manicure set she keeps hidden in an empty tomb. Alvin is the typical teen-ager son watchful of pimples on his face and obsessed with acquiring a cheap cell phone. These characters’ affection for each other is a form of carino brutal as shown in their colorful banter with each other. No matter how difficult their situation is, their bond as a family as expressed in Sergio’s dinner prayer remains strong and enduring.
Part of the reason why these characters linger on in one’s memory long after the film is over is the effective low-key ensemble acting by the cast and the luminous performances of its lead actor Lou Veloso and actress Mercedes Cabral. Veloso’s weatherworn face embodies Sergio’s street smart sense as well as his tenacity to surmount various obstacles. In particular, his clueless and forlorn gaze during the bus ride home with his children beside him brims with understated angst. For her part, Cabral immerses her whole being into the role of the mentally challenged Celia. Instead of rendering a stereotyped interpretation of a retard as an idiot, Cabral projects Celia as a self-aware woman with her own dreams and desires.
The cast’s sterling work is subtly enhanced by Carlo Mendoza’s soft-toned cinematography, Kats Serraon’s vignette-style of editing and Andy Hopkins’ unobtrusive score. All these production elements contribute to an indelible portrait of a family that navigates life’s daily challenges with the compass of their collective well-being and devotion to each other.
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