6th October 2016 6.10pm at BFI Southbank
9th October 2016 12.45pm at Ciné Lumière
If there’s one thing Brillante Mendosa’s Ma’ Rosa nails it’s what it feels like to stand on a crowded street. The opening, that sees Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) and her family return from the supermarket to their busy neighbourhood, is brilliant: the camera darts along, cinéma-vérité style, as Rosa barks orders at her sons, heckles at her relatives and friends, and fights to be heard over a soundtrack of scooter engines, distant sirens, and the chatter of street merchants. It’s even more exciting when, once the dynamic of their family is established – in addition to groceries, they sell crystal meth from their shop with the husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) unafraid to sample his own wares – a gang of police officers come in and make a loud arrest. The score burs with danger; the chatter of people increases, as they see Rosa marched down the street with handcuffs; where can this film go next?
It turns out nowhere very interesting. Mendosa has all the ingredients for a great neorealist parable. He has the incredible photography; he has an impeccable setting; and he has a great cast, namely Jaclyn Jose, who deservedly won the best actress award at Cannes. But come the second act, Mendosa sinks his narrative with an overlong examination of police corruption, neglecting the community aspect that made the opening so appealing. He returns to it at the end, but it’s too little too late – the pace is dead, the film is a wasted opportunity.
Perhaps that’s a little harsh. Once Rosa and Nestor are arrested, they are told by police that the only way they can avoid jail is by paying a bribe of 200,000 pesos. Grassing up their dealer nets them 100 grand, plus 50 from his wife, who’s horrified to see the way he’s treated in police custody. That leaves Rosa to raise 50 grand: she enlists her three children to help, as they desperately trawl the streets of their home, asking anyone and doing anything for help.
Ma’ Rosa shows us how poverty drives people to desperate measures, and how the interference of a corrupt state divides communities. But once it’s done showing us how terrible these cops are, it barely has time to illuminate the psychology of the family – merely showing us their plight, not the humanity they have to summon to overcome it. Not a bad film, then, but certainly a frustrating one.
Ma’ Rosa does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Ma’ Rosa here: