July 9, 2016
Brilliante Mendoza's latest opus "Ma' Rosa" again made it into competition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. What made it memorable was the unprecedented win of Ms. Jaclyn Jose as Best Actress. Fortunately, it did not take long that this film was given a commercial run locally, almost right after its highly-publicized campaign in Cannes.
Nestor and Rosa Reyes were a middle-aged couple who ran a small variety store in the slum area where they lived. One night, they were busted by police for possessing illegal drugs. The corrupt police officials were willing to let them go if the Reyes's can cough up P50,000 to pay for their way out. Their three grown kids, Jackson, Kerwin and Raquel, had to come up with the formidable amount by fair means or foul.
As you can read in the synopsis above, the story of "Ma' Rosa" is not new. It is in fact a very familiar tale, oft told in several films and tv dramas in several variations. By the time I saw the actors playing the police officers (stereotypically bad boy actors Mark Anthony Fernandez, Mon Confiado and Baron Geisler), their crooked intentions were apparent even before they brought it up. Story is not really the strongest or most original aspect of this film.
The story may be old-hat, but the performances were not. Each member of the Reyes family had at least one scene that grabbed attention -- Nestor (Julio Diaz) wearing an old police t-shirt, Jackson (Felix Roco) carrying the television around, Kerwin (Jomari Angeles) throwing back the money, Raquel (Andi Eigenmann) slipping on the wet path. Cannes red carpet scene-stealer Maria Isabel Lopez only had one scene as the Nestor's vindictive sister Tilde, and she made sure it was memorable. And then of course, there was Jaclyn Jose and her award-winning performance as Rosa.
I guess most people come to watch "Ma' Rosa" in order to see how and why Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress at Cannes, so did I. She gave such a controlled performance. There was no big, typically award-bait hysterical scene. In fact, her best scenes were wordless. Ms. Jose did very mundane things here, like carrying groceries in the rain, mopping the floor at the station, pawning a cheap cellphone. Ms. Jose imbued these seemingly ordinary scenes with uncommonly deep and passionate underlying emotion so well-communicated by her eyes. She even made eating fishballs at a roadside stall an extraordinary acting highlight which eventually led to her historic victory. She raised the commonplace and prosaic to a higher level, and with her, up went the rest of the film.
I remembered when I watched Mr. Mendoza's 2012 film "Captive" (My Review). I was so dizzy from shaky-cam that I could not look at the screen anymore. I felt the same here, though not as much. I have to accept by now that my constitution really finds it difficult to tolerate his signature shaky-cam. I wish Mendoza did not have to resort to such vertiginous gimmicks to evoke the sense of gritty realism. It is not necessary. His well-chosen images already realistically establish the squalor, the apathy, the greed and the desperation in which his film was set and where his characters wallow. 8/10.