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.

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