Translated from Filipino by Adhoniz B. Rebong. This article was first published on www.iloiloartkritik.blogspot.com.
There are three modes of reading that one can apply to an artwork adapted from print and made into a film. First, the intended meaning of the author; second, the interpretation of the director; and third, the ‘third meaning’ of the critic.
Based on the Palanca award-winning short story of Leoncio P. Deriada, the short film Dog Eaters (2022) by Kevin Pison Piamonte, shown on June 17, 2022, at the UPV Cinemateque, brings to the surface religious references as well as the political articulation of both the writer and the director. It is obvious in the opening sequences of the film that class struggle (rich vs. poor) is implied from the camera’s angling—focusing on the towering buildings then tilting down the small houses in Artiaga Street where a pedicab with the name ‘Asturias’ enters the alley (Asturias is a place in Spain that became the stronghold of Christianity during the Medieval Period).
This is followed by the introduction of the lead casts Mariana (a variation of the name ‘Maria’ and ‘Marian’ that alludes to the Virgin Mother Mary, thus the ‘actualized’ name: ‘Maria-na!’), the wife, and Victor (from the Italian ‘Vittorio’ that symbolizes the success of Jesus against sins and death), the husband. Mariana (Sunshine Teodoro) is a fat lady who is three months pregnant after giving birth to her eight-month-old baby. Victor (Nathan J. Sotto) on the other hand is a former bouncer and is now a part-time construction worker sporting long hair and a beard that resembles that of Jesus Christ.
Their scene opens with Mariana’s chiding and cursing Victor’s and his friend’s deed—eating a dish made from dog meat. She accuses Victor and his friends of acting like a dog. In fact, Victor can be likened to a dog because of this identification with the pet dog, Ramir; as well as Ramir’s representation of Victor. Victor then defends their action of eating dog meat as a long-standing tradition of the people in Artiaga Street (similar to saying that this is also a tradition among the Igorots and already practiced even before the coming of the Spanish and American colonizers).
The macho and patriarchal nature of the community are represented in the drinking sessions of Victor and his friends: the habitual drinking, fooling around with women, and the jokes about their dicks (‘butô’ that becomes ‘tarugo’, signifying the growth of its size). The power of the phallus is further represented by the flashback of Victor’s ‘rape’ of Mariana and even the way Mariana holds her child’s bottle of milk.
Halfway into the film, Elpidia (whose name means ‘Hope’) is introduced as the one who will bring a little bottle that contains an abortion agent for Mariana’s pregnancy. Victor calls Elpidia a ‘bruha’ (witch) which invites the reading of Elpidia as a representation of the ‘Babaylan’. Babaylans are branded as ‘Yawa’ (Demons) by the Spanish Friars along with their fervent attempts to excommunicate them from the community during the earlier period of colonization. Despite the stigma, Mariana still draws strength from Elpidia and the bottle of abortion agent in order to fight for her right as a woman: as a woman yearning for a better life (just like how she looks at the tall buildings at the beginning which seems to look back at her house also), as a woman that can decide what is good for herself (the abortion of the baby), as a strong and fighting woman (the killing of the dog that represents her husband), and as a woman who’s free from an abusive relationship (abandoning the husband and violating the institution of marriage). The reason why in the last scenes of the film the other women are clapping at Mariana for the subversive acts that she has done.
On the other hand, it is still possible to extend these obvious meanings by the writer and the director and add a ‘third meaning’—the obtuse meaning—that can be read from the excesses and slippages of the images in the film. In this way, we can then treat Mariana’s freedom as a ‘temporary’ victory since she merely killed the representation of the Patriarchy’s power—the dog, and not its symbol—Victor, the husband. Also, we can also say that this ‘freedom’ is insignificant because there was no religious subjugation in the first place (read: being part of ‘Asturias’) due to them being not married in a church (proof of this is the portrait on the wall of the couple’s house where they have the Iloilo City Hall as background). The ‘third meaning’ will open the carnivalesque representation of the oppressed wife/Maria/Mariana—her being (excessively) fat and Victor’s resemblance (a slippage) with Jesus. If so, we can say that the film is ‘not serious’ and the audience can even laugh after they catch the ‘third meaning’ because what they have watched is just a film that ‘plays’ with meaning. And this is the beauty of Piamonte’s short film, Dog Eaters.
Watch the trailer of Dog Eaters below:
Adhoniz B. Rebong is a faculty of the Division of Humanities of University of the Philippines
Visayas. He teaches Filipino and Literature courses.