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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 7, 2016

A Review of Ma Rosa: Watch this socially significant film quickly before it gets pulled out of the theaters

WE WERE invited last week to the press preview of “Ma Rosa”, the new Brilliante Mendoza film that won the Cannes Filmfest best actress award for Jaclyn Jose, but we didn't make it as we found the venue quite far. These days when traffic is always horrible, we don’t go beyond QC anymore.
But we did watch it on opening day at SM North Edsa. And we feel so sad to report that there were only about 20 of us moviegoers inside the theatre. It’s really frustrating that a film which brought honor and prestige to our country is not that attractive to local viewers.

Granted that the movie is not the commercial kind of escapist entertainment that most film goers go for, we thought they would at least be curious to find out what made Jaclyn’s touching but very restrained interpretation of her title role character, that of the staunch and stoic matriarch of a beleaguered family, win over more internationally renowned actresses.

The film is very timely now that new Pres. Duterte has an intensified campaign against drug traffickers and rogue cops, both of whom are the main subjects of “Ma Rosa”. Jaclyn is Rosa, owner of a small sari-sari store named after her in a crowded slum community. (Yes, this offers poverty porn once again to delight foreign viewers.)

Rosa is married to a good for nothing husband (Julio Diaz), who’s a drug user, and they have three grown up kids: Felix Roco as Jackson, Andi Eigenmann as Raquel and Jomari Angeles as Kerwin. From the opening scene where we see her buying various products at a big supermarket to be sold at her convenience store, we see that Rosa is the heart and soul of their family. She even insists that she be given her change of 25 centavos by the cashier.

She doesn’t see anything wrong in being a small time drug dealer, selling shabu in small quantities to augment her family’s meager income. She's tough as nails, but she has a kind heart. She invites a boy neighbor, Bong (Tim Mabalot), to dinner and even gives him free cocaine, without knowing that this boy will bring her family’s downfall. Bong tips the cops about her family’s involvement in the drug trade to free his own brother from the police.

Just as Julio is about to celebrate his birthday, the cops led by Mark Anthony Fernandez, Baron Geisler, Neil Sese and Mon Confiado raid their store, confiscate the shabu they’re selling as evidence and take Jaclyn and Julio to the police station.

But these are rogue cops who have no intention of really nailing them but just extorting money from them. Their arrest is not even put on record. They are taken inside the police station using the backdoor and it’s made clear to them that they can be freed if they’d just pay P200,000 upfront.
When it becomes clear that they just don’t have the funds to pay for such a huge amount, the cops force them to “sing” and betray the identity of the drug trafficker that supplies them with shabu. This is Jomar (Kristoffer King) and Rosa becomes the key instrument in his subsequent arrest.

But even if they already got Jomar, the cops still would not release Jaclyn and Julio. They adamantly ask for P50,000 more from them. It’s at this point that the movie leaves the focus on Jaclyn and concentrates on her three kids who take it upon themselves to raise the funds needed to free their mom and dad. Felix tries to sell the remaining appliances in their house and it’s he who discovers that it’s their friend Bong who chose to be a traitor to them.

Andi makes a round of their relatives to borrow money. The sequence where she has to face the noisy harangue of a termagant aunt (Maria Isabel Lopez), that ends with her slipping down and falling on her butt in their dirty eskinita, is simply quite a gem. Jomari turns out to be a male prostitute and implores his gay client (Allan Paule) to give him additional money to help his family in a time of crisis. We think it’s the nude gay bed scene of Jomari with Allan that gave the movie an underserved R-16 rating.

It’s to the credit of the Philippine National Police that they allowed a movie, which exposes the nauseating kind of corruption among their ranks, to be actually shot on location right inside a real police station. This is not the first time that scalawag cops are portrayed effectively in a local film (there’s Erik Matti’s “On the Job”, Lawrence Fajardo’s “Posas” and also Mendoza’s “Kinatay”) before this.

But this one is the most stomach-turning in the very brazen way dirty cops ruthlessly exploit even very poor people who are not given due process. The protracted negotiations they conduct with their victims in a matter of fact manner to milk money from them is a testament to their shameless greed and lack of conscience. Their unsettling abuse of authority with so much impunity just makes you want to throw up. And in fairness to Baron, Mon and Mark Anthony, they are all very effective in portraying them, making it look so effortlessly that corruption is indeed just a regular way of life for them.

The film is most certainly not a feel good movie. After all, it’s apparent that Brilliante aims for the conscientization of the viewer. The much talked about ending is a real heart breaker, no wonder Cannes jurors chose to give Jaclyn the best actress plum. The final sequence shows her walking on her way back to the police station to pay the balance of the bribe money the cops are asking for. She then sees an itinerant fish ball vendor and buys a stick.

While she’s chewing on the fish ball, the bystanders around her jeer her in derision, then she sees a hardworking family of four covering up the small cart of various goods they’re selling to call it a night. All throughout the harassment she got from the cops, she is never shown breaking down in front of them or even her family.

But this time, maybe out of pity for herself and with all the exasperating humiliation she just went through, she finally sheds a tear. No melodrama. She just does it quietly as the camera shows her in a harrowing but very compelling close up. Then black out. End credits.

Troy Espiritu’s script is an indictment not only of drug dealing and corruption among law enforcers but also of the abject poverty that drives our penurious fellowmen to resort to unlawful means just to earn a little more money and survive. And it’s done in a very austere indie style.

Shot with a handheld camera that’s the favorite of Brilliante, it has so many scenes with the cameraman just following various people as they practice the “lakad school of acting” prevalent in indie films, showing characters walking great distances not really to prove anything much.

Just like “Kinatay”, the film’s time frame also happens in just one full day, from one night to the next night, with the cinematography seemingly dark and dreary and ill lighted, but with a purpose, as it is manifestly aiming for bleak uber realism to show the grimy streets and urban ghettos of Manila and also the unfortunate plight of our impoverished people for whom daily existence is a battle for survival with very limited opportunities in life. We don’t think this socially significant film will last long in our theaters so, if you truly care for good local cinema, watch it now before it gets pulled out.