Manycriticize Brillante Mendoza for sensationalizing the state of Philippine povertywith disconcerting imageries of graphic violence and gratuitous sex. Withmovies such as Serbis, about a matriarchal family living in a rundownmoviehouse where prostitution thrives; and Kinatay, about a washed-upprostitute hacked to pieces by corrupt cops, it may seem that the Filipino auteurhas nothing else to offer but shock cinema.
Butthese critics must have forgotten about Foster Child, Mendoza's veryfirst film in the Cannes Film Festival. This little indie film, screened aspart of the Director's Fortnight section, tackles the state of foster care inthe Philippines. There's no sex and violence in Foster Child, but it isas evocative and as gut wrenching as his two other movies.
Mendoza'slatest body of work, Lola, also doesn't have the seemingly mandatoryelements of brutality and carnality. But it doesn't mean that Mendoza hasveered away from his cruel exposé of living in a marginalized society. In thisfilm, Mendoza forces his viewers to walk in his characters' shoes until ourfeet get blisters from the long, agonizing walk. It's a dragging and tediousjourney, but once we reach the destination, the pay-off makes it worthwhile.
Lolatells the parallel stories of two elderly women, Puring (Rustica Carpio) andSepa (Anita Linda). Driven by selfless love, the two scrape the bottom of thebarrel to raise funds for their respective grandsons. Sepa wants her deadgrandson to have a decent burial despite barely having enough to get by in lifedecently. Meanwhile, Puring wants to free her grandson after he is incarceratedfor killing Sepa's grandson.
Memoriesof Typhoon Ondoy will inevitable resurface as you watch Lola. The film wasshot in Malabon during the rainy season. Typhoon Ondoy flooded Metro Manilabecause of its continuous heavy rain. But in Malabon, the floodwaterssubmerge Sitio Ilog in murky water all year round. Mendoza perfectly captured theharsh weather—the strong wind, the downpour, and the flood. He was able to usethese elements to punctuate his scenes' dramatic arc.
Wesee the frail grandmothers drenched in rainwater as they individually attemptto seek financial help from other people—they turn to neighbors, cityofficials, and even lending institutions. Your heart will be crushed as you see them being ignored or turnedaway. In the film's most beautifully shot sequence, the funeral procession forSepa's grandson goes on not with a motorcade but with a handful of boats. The white casket is decorated with colorful flowers that contrast with the bleak surroundings. After a long struggle, Sepa andher family take their beloved dead to his final resting place.
AnitaLinda and Rustica Carpio are effortless performers. As the camera zooms in on their faces, you can get a glimpse ofa heartbreaking portrait of struggle and repressed emotions written with theirwrinkles and facial lines. Despite the storm that messed the characters' lives,they remain resilient and tough.What might turn viewers away is the pacing thatruns at turtleneck speed. A 5-minute scene is stretched to 10 or even 15minutes. But once you get past that, you'll find Lola all at oncepoignant and unnerving. This filmproves that even without sex and violence, Brillante Mendoza can deliver hishard-hitting messages.
Lola is the opening film of the 11th Cinemanila International Film Festival.It will be screened at Market! Market! in Taguig on the following dates:
October 18 (SUNDAY)
11:00 - 1:00 PM Market! Market! Cinema 5
October 20 (TUESDAY)
2:50 - 4:50 PM Market! Market! Cinema 5