Ma Rosa


For a preview of this movie, click here.

Note:  My husband, the poet and film human encyclopedia, has appeared on this blog before.  As many of you know him, he’s not shy at all — so here he is without furher ado.

It’s been a long road since I discovered the magic 7th Art in my childhood, thanks to the Cinema de Minuit. I remember sneaking to the living room at night to watch all those impressive black and white movies. The day was for silly unaesthetic colored 80’s movies, the night was devoted to clair obscure masterpieces from the past.

In France, the cinema is no entertainment, it is art. It is as sacred as Literature and painting. We do not go to the movies to be entertain but to experience feelings and be changed. I’m not a real “cinephile” but a real “cinephage” therefore I do not discriminate a genre, a region or a style. I might have strong biases against directors or actors but it never stopped me to watch their movies. So I do not avoid the bad summer comedies or any of the buddies movies.

In every country I end up living, I locate the closest movie theatre and check what is available. In Quezon City we live right by two major malls with an Imax movie theater in each. It shows mainly blockbusters, every superhero movies or Disney. Sometimes for few days they will release an independent movie.  So I’m lucky, I can continue my movie obsession.

And I have a good karma about movie. Marion Cotillard won Best Actress at the Academy Award the year I moved to the states. “The Artist” won almost everything the year my daughter was born. And this year Jaclyn Jose won the Best Actress Palme D’Or  at the Cannes Film Festival.

I have a long love story with the Cannes festival and it’s always moving to watch the closing ceremony.

So here I am, thousand miles away from home watching over and over on every tv in the Philipinnes the triumph of Filipino cinema in Cannes.

Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma Rosa” was released a month later in every cinema in Manila and Quezon City. So I jumped in a jeepney for 8pm movie session, excited to discover the work of Brillante and Jaclyn on a big screen.

In the Filipino theater you can bring your own food. They just advised to not bring smelly, foul or rice dishes. You can bring a full picnic if you want, it’s fine. I do not like much eating at the movies so I just drink, tea or coffee.

The election is just over and the new president Dutertre seems to come straight out from a Don Siegel movie. His nickname is the punisher and a local artist has made action figures portraying him as the Marvel character “The Punisher”. He wages a war against drug pushers, corrupt cops and corrupt journalists.

The movie is about a woman, a wife, a mother of four who runs a “Sari Sari” store (mini marts where you can buy anything from detergent to cigarette and eggs). There are Sari Sari at every corner here. It’s part of the everyday scenery.

She sells and uses drugs.

She gets arrested and brought in a police precinct in which her husband and her are pushed into some offices by the back door. There’s no registration or no other policeman in uniforms. Only four undercover cops with a teenage that cleans and brings them food.

It’s mainly natural light and over the shoulder camera. We are really close to the actors and the close up hide no intimacy.

If they give up the name of their dealer and 50,000 thousand pesos they will be free, no charges, no jail time.

The undercover cops celebrate every pesos than can put in their pocket, they buy chicken and give some money to their chief. They keep some personal belongings from themselves and are violent when they need to keep control of the situation.

Ma Rosa accepts the deal and help them arrest their dealer. It’s the jackpot for the policemen. The dealer has to give away some names and money to get out. Same deal… The dealer asks if he can make a phone call and texts his dealer which happens to be a local elected official of a barangay  (district). The policemen intercept the text and beat him to pulp for it.

The tension is strong and relentless.

President Dutertre warned the corrupt elected officials, the barangay chiefs and other local politicians and policemen to surrender or they will be killed on sight. There’s been a lot of surrenders and tears all over the front pages of every newspaper here. Some were killed in their home or in the middle of the streets. Over a thousand “suspected” drug addicts, pushers and gang members have been killed in the streets since May. Bodies are left in the street for all to see what happen to who defy the new order.

The goal is to stop the corruption at the higher and lower level of the society. The most clever already flew away the country.

Ma Rosa and her husband have 48 hours to get 50,000 pesos (a small fortune here). Their children will have that task. Of the four children, the youngest stays with a relative. Her teenage daughter will visit every close member of the family to ask for money even the one they are upset with. The oldest son will try to sell some possessions in the neighborhood. And the Benjamin will sell his body which is going to be the most lucrative transaction of all.

We witness all the stages of misery: money, work, sex and the lack of options they bring.

The movie is about to finish and I still do not witness any amazing performance from Jaclyn Jose. She is true, do not overplay like her usual tv roles, she’s almost absent, lost like a victim, in shock.

And then it happens, we spend 10 minutes alone at the end of the movie with Ma Rosa. Alone, trying to find redemption in the streets of Manila. It’s beautiful, tragic and moving.

I’m baffled and moved.

The movie is a honest reflection of the climate that reigns in the Philippines today. From the police corruption and brutality that splashes on the news every day, to the cold killing and judgment without law of “criminals” and of course to the social poverty that brings some Filipinos to those extremes way of life. Because it is about life.