Cannes review: Ma’ Rosa. A hustle through the grim streets of Manila

Director Brillante Mendoza is relentless in his pursuit of grubby verité, and his vision is worth enduring

Jaclyn Jose as Rosa Reyes

Film Title: Ma' Rosa

Director: Brillante Mendoza

Starring: Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Felix Roco

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 110 min

Wed, May 18, 2016, 15:13

   

Everything looks horrible in Brillante Mendoza’s social realist hustle through the grim streets of Manila. That’s partly because life really is pretty horrible for the characters, but Mendoza’s visual aesthetic heightens the nauseous fug. The movie, shot in natural light, with little attempt made to illuminate hidden corners, looks to have been kicked all the way from the Philippines to the south of France.

This is how it should be. Ma’ Rosa hits a few bum notes, but Mendoza is relentless in his pursuit of grubby verité. The title refers to Rosa Reyes (Jaclyn Jose), a middle-aged woman who sells small amounts of drugs to supplement the income from her roadside stand. Early on in the picture, the cops burst in and drag her and her husband off to the station. The corruption is shameless. The senior officer immediately asks her for a bribe to make the charges go away. The sum is too high, so she negotiates to give up her supplier instead. That goes only moderately well, and the family is forced to come up with a substantial wad.

A large part of Ma’ Rosa is taken up with members of the clan scurrying about the city in search of contributions. One son sells the television. In a strange sequence that seems to be seeking humour from an unsuitable circumstance, another boy sells his body to a businessman.

Ma’ Rosa is less revolting than Mendoza’s Kinatay, which won him best director here in 2009, and it certainly functions as a social document, but its most conspicuous virtues concern breakneck pace. That rush to get the money before the cops change their mind is indecently exciting.

No such story can end blissfully. But the wonderful final shot is a marvel. Definitely worth enduring.

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