TEXT AND PHOTOS BY HENRYLITO D. TACIO
“It’s a painful truth. There is a lot of bigger corruption that is happening all over the world maybe on a different scale.” – Brillante Ma. Mendoza (Reuters news)
“… The latest gritty slice-of-life film from prolific Filipino director Brillante Ma. Mendoza. Not as gorgeously cinematic as his first competition entry in Cannes, 2008’s ‘Serbis’, nor as intense and dark as his second Palme-hopeful and best-director winner, ‘Kinatay’, his third competition entry needs to lean heavily on its story and characters to keep audiences engaged.”
That was how “Hollywood Reporter” film critic Boyd van Hoeij wrote of his review of the “Ma’ Rosa,” one of the 21 films competing for the coveted top Palme d’Or prize at the 69th Cannes Film Festival early this year.
Peter Bradshaw, in a review which appeared in “The Guardian,” wrote that the film “is made with control and clarity, a narrative purpose which is held on to despite an apparently aimless docu-style, and a clear sense of jeopardy.” He ended it with these words: “… It’s a cold, hard look at what being poor actually means, and how few options there are for escape.”
Allan Hunter of “Screen Daily,” echoed the same observation. “Ma’ Rosa offers a bleak portrait of the poverty and corruption in the Philippines as we witness chaotic, shanty town streets teeming with people and strewn with rubbish and a society in which only the most ruthless can survive.”
The story is simple but the characters – and those that portrayed them – are what made this film very interesting.
“Ma’ Rosa” tells the life of Rosa Reyes, a slightly domineering, no-nonsense kind of woman. She owns a small community convenience store connected to their home in Mandaluyong, a sprawling city that’s part of Metro Manila. Together with her husband, Nestor (played by Julio Diaz), they use their convenient stores as cover-up for selling illegal narcotic, Methamphetamines (more popularly known as “shabu”).
Their life turns upside down when their neighbor sets the couple for a police raid leading to their arrest on the eve Nestor is supposed to celebrate his birthday.
At the police station, the couple are given a choice: Go to jail without bail or hand over PhP 200,000, a huge sum which they don’t have. They have also been asked to contact their supplier (Kristoffer King) so he can help raised the amount.
Backed against the wall, Rosa seeks help from her three children: Jackson (Felix Roco), Erwin (Jomari Angeles), and Raquel (Andi Eigenmann). This is where the drama sets in; how the three offspring try to cough up the money to bail out their parents. Jackson tries to sell their television while Raquel begs family members for donations. For his part, Erwin has to sleep with older man just to collect some cash.
Maggie Lee, chief Asia film critic of “Variety,” noted: “That there’s been no outward show of affection among any of the family members makes their instant assumption of duty surprisingly touching. While Jackson and Erwin looks like mama’s boys at first, they prove more enterprising and resourceful than expected, lifting the mood out of total bleakness.”
The eponymous heroine is played superbly by Jaclyn Jose. No other actress could have played the role so well, even Vilma Santos, the favorite actress of Jose. Hunter has this to say: “Jaclyn Jose cuts an imposing figure as Rosa, a bustling, no-nonsense woman who is known throughout her neighborhood. She is the force of nature who keeps the family together. She remains the heart of the story.”
For her tour de force performance, she was named Best Actress at the recent Cannes Film Festival over other worthy nominees, including Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Marion Cotillard.
“I was just watching and enjoying the moment. When they called my name, I got surprised and got emotional,” said Jose, who received several acting awards, among those were for her performances in “Takaw Tukso” (1987), “Celestina Sanchez, Alyas Bubbles/Enforcer: Ativan Gang” (1988), “Itanong mo sa Buwan” (1989), “The Flor Contemplacion Story” (1996), and “Sarong Bangui” (2006).
Mendoza, who was named Best Director during the 2009 Cannes Festival for “Kinatay,” is the man of “Ma’ Rosa.” As a story teller, he can be compared to the late Celso Ad. Castillo – the man behind “Burlesk Queen.” But as a film director, he is more of a reincarnation of Lino Brocka, whose film credits include “Insiang,” “Bona,” “Mananayaw,” “Tinimbang Ka, Nguni’t Kulang,” and “Jaguar.”
Hollywood film critic Barbara Scharres, who wrote a piece in Rogerebert.com, seemed to agree with my observation on the latter. “Mendoza is one of a generation of Filipino directors working in the socially conscious tradition of the great Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka,” she penned.
In one of earlier interviews, Mendoza was quoted as saying: “I think the reason why Cannes likes my films is because they are uniquely Filipino stories that focused mostly on family issues and moralities, but at the same time they have universal sensibilities.”
According to Mendoza, “Ma’ Rosa” was based on a true story. “The idea of this film came up four years ago when I became indirectly involved with the said incident,” he explained. “It captures my interest to tell this story because it shows a unique but also disturbing characteristic of a common Filipino family. That when a family member is backed against the wall for the wrong doings that he or she made, you will do everything to keep them out of trouble even if it means violating basic virtuous. In a society where survival of the fittest is a fact that we have to live with, family becomes amoral.”
In a press statement, Mendoza explained on how he made the movie: “The whole film was treated like a documentary film with a strong feel of realism, using found objects and locations in production design. But what seems to be a simple production endeavor is actually a formidable challenge to any filmmaker because even though this was filmed in a minimalist manner, the truth is we are still doing a feature film with real actors trained in different disciplines of acting.”
The art of non-acting
In the movie, the actors seem not to be acting at all – just like in most movies. “In able for us to capture the precision raw emotions,” Mendoza said, “I told them (the actors) to throw away everything that they have learned in their acting profession and just plain act and natural as their characters since they should blend with non-actors on screen.”
Interestingly, the actors really didn’t know what to do as there was no script to read while waiting for the take. “The actors were never given a copy of the script and was only directed based on how I commute the script,” Mendoza said. “Dialogues were delivered very naturally as they depend on their personal instincts throughout the film.”
Unlike most feature films, the sequences of “Ma’ Rosa” were filmed in the same order as the story “so that the actors should feel the flight of their character as the shooting progresses,” Mendoza pointed out.
Aside from those mentioned earlier, the other cast include Inna Tuason, Mark Anthony Fernandez, Baron Geisler, Mon Confiado, Niel Ryan Sese, Mark Dionisio, John Paul Duray, Vince Rillon, Mercedes Cabral, Allan Paule, Maria Isabel Lopez, Aaron Rivera, Ruby Ruiz, Timothy Mabalot, and Luis Ruiz.
The film runs for 110 minutes. The Center Stage Productions is executive produced by Mendoza himself based on the screenplay written by Troy Espiritu. Director of photography is Odyssey Flores while music is provided by Teresa Barrozo.
July 2016 Health and Lifestyle