"Ma' Rosa," a plea to the current state of affairs

THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez - The Freeman

With my co-actors in both films Swap and 100 Yards, Clanch Dayve Belleza and Eli Razo, we watched the opening screening of Ma' Rosa last July 6 at Cinema 1 of SM City Cebu. A film by ace director Brilliante Mendoza, it made global waves as it garnered the Best Actress Award for Jacklyn Jose at the 2016 Cannes Festival.

The story revolves around a financially challenged family in a depressed area in Manila. Challenged of their situation, relying only on their small sari-sari store, augmenting their income has become a viable option. But this becomes a problem when the manner is illegal-discreetly selling drugs. Supplied to them by a motorcycle-driving pusher whose source and connection can be traced to a military officer.

As the story unfolds, their store is raided by the local police, who are not truly concerned with stamping out the drug trade but in extorting money from it. Riding on the situation, as the other members of the family are in frenzied search for the required cash, it uncovers the systemic bribery in local law enforcement.

And in the process, the film shows the concern of members of the family to save their parents from being jailed as their lives revolve around in this so called family affair. Each contributes for the release of their parents: the daughter, a college student, goes from relative to belligerent relative to borrow cash; the youngest, a teenage boy, asks his much older gay lover for more than the usual amount, in exchange for their short time at a motel; and the eldest, a tattooed and long-haired bum, hawks whatever appliances he can drag out of their rickety home.

While the film begins and ends with Ma' Rosa, the fact that it's not really her but rather this unavailing part of the ugly and haphazardly developed metropolis that is this film's central character does confound the "leading actress" description that made the main character grabbed the international honor. It is how the main actress portrays in an environment packed with multihued characters and situation. 

The realization comes when Ma' Rosa, in tears, sees an even poorer family making what is presumably a modest but honest living in the same distraught corner of the same callous city. This significant human experience is about regret and despair all at once, and at last it elevates the film's comfortably bleak vision. It is after choosing the right option in a tempting society. But this takes a bold soul not to be drowned in an environment where influences abound in one's growing years. An environment that is very distinct to Mendoza's films like the river squatter village, the red light district, smeary vistas of tight alleyways. They are all hard locations because they document hard living yet all the tiniest details are present and revealing.

It's the rare Filipino film that lets the world in on all the little inside jokes, and makes the misery burst through full-force in performances by Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Baron Geisler, Jomari Angeles, Neil Ryan Sese, Mercedes Cabral, Andi Eigenmann, Mark Anthony Fernandez, Felix Roco, Mon Confiado and Maria Isabel Lopez that connect with all the nuances required to get by in this world.

The film is a reflection and an indirect plea to the current state of affairs. It has a powerful truth captured on camera - the drug menace and the corruption in the ranks of those who are supposed to stop it in a poverty-stricken milieu. 

Isn't this the battle cry of this present administration? Abroad, it has been a much-talked about movie for its universal appeal but sadly becomes unheard of by the majority in the local scene even if it has an opportune relevance for Filipinos.

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