Not many Filipino names come up in the international film industry; Brillante Mendhoza is one of the few, but he defends himself admirably with his distinctive style and very personal concepts. Selected for the Official Selection, his latest work Ma’ Rosa certainly distinguishes itself from all other entries.
Filmed in the poorest neighbourhoods of Manila, Rosa Reyes rounds up the meagre profits of her corner shop by selling drugs with her husband. Caught by the local police, the Reyeses have to negotiate with the shockingly corrupt justice system in order to be freed and save the whole family. Mother of four and married to a junkie, Ma’ Rosa’s snappy but hard-working attitude is what keeps the family alive.
The way Ma’ Rosa is filmed is unique at the least. Brillante Mendhoza treats all 110 minutes of the picture in pure documentary style. If not aware of his particular choices, the beginning could easily be mistaken for a documentary. The characters, main and secondary, as well as setting and events are all treated in a seemingly on-the-moment, casual way, while the editing and shot changes are kept minimal. The result is a film that takes getting accustomed to, with its own down-to-earth beauty. A very evocative simplicity, the filmmaking feels consistent with the low life the director chooses to depict, and refuses all mannerisms mainstream cinema has gotten our eye used to.
Despite this, the local manners and lifestyle emerge with a genuine eye (that of a Filipino himself), and has nothing condescending or sociologically interested a documentarist would have. The story is that of a desperate family, and however unadorned the aesthetic may be, it remains a work of fiction. This blurriness of genres may certainly appear disorientating, but Mendhoza stands by his singular style.
If this were a cue for theoretical discourse, one could elaborate on the idea that because all documentary film is still a mise en scene, never an objective and total recount of the truth; so why can’t fiction also use those same codes? A documentary style is undoubtedly what Mendhoza is going for, defying the paradox that documentary is what has no style. Transferring the look of doc to fiction, Ma’ Rosa is raw, grimy, honest, and bare to the bone, but leaves a more intense impression than many more conventional films.
Ma’ Rosa does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Ma’ Rosa here: