Brillante Mendoza chronicles the truths about the Philippines and its cinema
The camera follows Rosa along the now tranquil streets of the metro. Having spent a whole day in the company of corrupt cops, she walks tirelessly. The handheld camera follows her without respite, almost reflecting her convoluted thoughts. She arrives at her destination: the house of a loan shark. Although beaten by stress, Rosa maintains her fierce, resolute composure as she persistently asks the man if she could pawn her daughter’s phone to him.
As she walks back to the precinct, her neighbors taunt her for “ice.” She approaches a fishball stand, totally disrobed of her pride. For once, the unsteady camera focuses on Rosa as she gorges on the skewered squid balls. With every hurried bite, her eyes swell until tears run down. The night has fallen, but for Rosa, another day full of uncertainties is about to unfold.
Without any definite conclusion, the film fades to black and the credits roll.
That scene is how internationally acclaimed director Brillante Mendoza ended his most recent film Ma’ Rosa, which bagged the Best Actress Award from Cannes Film Festival for Jaclyn Jose’s subtle yet poignant performance as a drug dealer in an impoverished community.
Mendoza’s films ponder on the plight of marginalized people and communities. Ma’ Rosa, for instance, shows a day in the life of a family fighting against corrupt policemen. His characters inhabit a world familiar to the audience, sharing a similar plight to those of Lino Brocka’s. More than that, the scenes Mendoza creates in his films are from the same world we inhabit. “Film, for me, is a reflection of life. How I see life, how I experience life [is] how I want my films to be,” he explains.
Throughout the years, Mendoza has developed an aesthetic akin to that of a documentary film, or an “eyewitness account,” as described by director Quentin Tarantino after seeing Kinatay. True enough, Mendoza’s portfolio is stripped of the glitz of most movies, replaced with the grit of real life. With shots that are rarely stable, he creates an environment for viewers to take in the film as curious observers, even to some extent as voyeurs.