By Kristia Niña Daymiel | October 12, 2023
“Arf, arf, arf!” As dogs bark to be free, a person likewise cries to break free—even if their chains are imperceptible to the human eye.
In a kitchen with walls made from rusty tin roofs, a floor of soil, and creaky stairs, Mariana shouted with a trembling voice: “Akon ni lawas!” as she debates with Victor, her husband, over aborting the 3-month-old child she carries—the segment that allowed me to see through the heart of this film.
“Dog Eaters” was one of the films showcased for the “Lutas: Negros Oriental Film Festival” at City Mall Dumaguete on Oct. 7. Though screened second with 6 other local films, “Dog Eaters” held a special place in the hearts of the locals because of its origins.
Before making its way to the big screen, “Dog Eaters” was once a short story that won the Palanca Awards in 1970. “The Dog Eaters” written by Leoncio Deriada, former head of the Silliman University English Department, became the basis of director Kevin Piamonte’s film. The story channels the custom of Artiaga St. in Davao City: eating dog meat. As such, the film is intertwined with painful realities that haunt society today, especially issues linked with feminism.
Embedded in every aspect of its framing is the defiance of Mariana as a woman, a wife, and a mother—remaining dauntless against Victor who renders his days with nothing else but dog meat, tuba (coconut wine), and nonsensical conversations with his friends. Preoccupied with the insensible noise of drunk men scattered across her home, a chaotic neighborhood, and her good-for-nothing husband, Mariana longs for an escape from the menace of what seems to be a fixated tragedy of her life: poverty. As she stood by the window beside her child sleeping in an abaca hammock, the sight of a city with tall buildings magnified the weight of her misfortune and the distress of Artiaga St.
Beyond the disputes and tears in the story, “Dog Eaters” hammers on themes of feminism and the idealized notion of resilience. Mariana scrimped through the destitution of Artiaga St. with a sewing machine and a rolle of measuring tape hanging around her shoulder. However, no matter the number of stitches she sews, it all seems insignificant in the face of the circumstances of her life—as if no number of threads could help carry her burdens.
Despite the heavy load of insufficiency, a husband that reeks of alcohol, and a child carried in both her arms and womb, Mariana stood invincible—not by will, but out of obligation. The film made a distinction between the plot and the story. While the plot reminds you of typical Filipino slums and a patriarchal home, the story gives you the bigger picture of our social reality: a composite of grievances borne from poverty, the oppression of women, and toxic masculinity.
Apart from unveiling a view of reality, “Dog Eaters” being a fictional film kept its elements far from fictional—trying to keep its scene.
With light editing and camera play, Piamonte calls their style “shot like a documentary” in order to keep the realistic feel within the film.
During an interview, actor Nathan Sotto, who plays Victor, even stressed that the men he hung out with during the drinking scene were actually his real-life friends, who were also filmmakers.
“Easy-going lang talaga ‘yung shoot eh,” Sotto said.
(The shoot was really easy going.)
Focusing the limelight on Mariana being indomitable against her despotic husband, this indie film did not only tell the story of a couple battling through the margin of poverty, but a story that speaks for women, for society, and for the Filipino people; that assertiveness knows no gender, that resilience isn’t necessarily strength.
After a powerful sequence of realistic scenarios and sentiments, Piamonte wrapped up the film with a scene of Mariana stepping out of that jagged house and taking the sikad (tricycle) with a weary face.
But in her teary but hopeful eyes was a vision of a better life—emphasizing every person’s right to shape their path however they want.
“Dog Eaters” is woven of social realities like misogyny and a patriarchal system, which inflicted an array of messages on its audience. The most prominent of these messages is the value of going against social constructs and stigma—of which the social construct of women being a disciple of house chores and husbands is questioned and deconstructed.
Being a medium of art and expression, the lens of a camera—even in a fictional film—can be more accurate than what we see in real life; but only if it is in the hands of a filmmaker with a critical yet compassionate eye.