Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Philippines, 2016. Centerstage Productions. Screenplay by Troy Espiritu. Cinematography by Odyssey Flores. Produced by Larry Castillo. Music by Teresa Barrozo. Film Editing by Diego Marx Dobles. Cannes Film Festival 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Brillante Mendoza takes on the tropes of Italian neorealism with this tale of a family trying to survive their depressed economic situation and the dubious authority governing their lives. At the centre of the clan is a tough matriarch (Jaclyn Jose) who takes no guff from anyone, running a streetside kiosk, taking care of her children, making up for the deficiencies of her drug-addicted husband, and dealing drugs on the side to bring in extra money. When an anonymous tip leads to the authorities arresting her and her husband, they have an interminable night in a police station trying to find a solution for avoiding jail: namely, paying the cops a huge amount of money that is near impossible to come up with. This is probably the most narratively coherent film in Mendoza’s oeuvre yet, one that develops a reasonable sympathy for its characters and has a through-line from situation to solution that results in a satisfying watch. There’s still a rather spotty dedication to connecting details, sometimes it feels natural and other times it feels like it’s just grabbing situations or conflicts from the air, but since Mendoza’s films usually feel that way in their entirety it is safe to say that a non-fan of Mendoza’s work will be more likely to enjoy this one. Jose’s charismatic performance, which earned her a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, certainly keeps the viewing experience in line and is enjoyable to behold, while Mendoza’s pulling no punches about the gritty realities of these characters’ lives (a good deal of them played by professionals who are blending in seamlessly) does offer its own reward.