Brilliante Mendoza’s latest film (cross-reference below) takes a very up-close-and-personal look at a Filipino family struggling to exist in a seedier part of Manila.
Not surprisingly, the issues and themes dealt with (poverty, drug scene, family loyalty, corruption and its close cousin ratting out) can be found in any large metropolis where economic divides fuel an endless cycle of the haves exploiting the semi-halves, who, in turn, take advantage of the have-nots who—frequently—are forced to turn on themselves.
It’s not a pretty picture but leads to the magnificent shot du jour as Ma’ Rosa’s envious eyes quietly observe a family that, more likely than not, mirrored her own, many, many years ago.
In the title role, Jaclyn Jose drives the film with a gritty determination that no matter what calamity awaits her character, says, “We’ll find a way [out of it].” It’s a composite performance few actors will ever achieve.
The slight plot (writer Troy Espiritu preferring to examine people rather than creating complex storylines) concerns the Reyes family’s Sari Sari street-front convenience business (they live in the same building) and its much more lucrative sideline of being the go-between for those who enjoy “ice” and those who traffic it.
Husband Nestor (most readily portrayed by Julio Diaz) is not averse to snorting some of the profits—especially when just about to celebrate his natal day.
But his party is severely curtailed with the arrival of three undercover cops who have been tipped off (see above) that more than cigarettes and sweets are on offer in the shop.
From there, the action is as predictable as the typhoon season. Those brave men employed to protect the citizenry soon make a mockery of their motto: “Service, Honor, Justice”, and proceed to shake down Rosa and Nestor by demanding (in exchange for release) (a) their supplier’s name (b) 200,000 pesos.
Because the “authorities” know they are on to such a wallet-filling catch, the couple is detained in a “private” holding area rather than the more public—where detailed records are required—one.
Just when things look bleak, the eldest Reyes children of the entrapped (and guilty) couple appear. Felix Roco is ideally pugnacious as the eldest, Jackson; Jomari Angeles lights up every scene he is in as Erwin; Andi Egienmann aptly demonstrates her mother’s inner strength playing Raquel.
After a short family huddle (the cops have no objections, realizing that much of their payday depends on the reunion—the down payment already received when supplier Jomar was, necessarily, snitched on), the kids are despatched to raise the remaining “bail bond” any way they can (but armed with several suggestions from their parents.)
What would you do? Beg friends and relatives (even a spiteful Auntie who had been wounded to the quick by her sister’s condescension)? Sell your alluring body for man-to-man sex? Walk the streets trying to hawk the family TV set and/or Karaoke machine for more than it’s worth?
In this instance, select all of the above.
Using the “cheapest camera I have” (Mendoza’s), cinematographer Odyssey Flores captures a marvellous you-are-there feeling. Chases, fights and long walks from A to B are just as uneven, nervous and jerky as the day-to-day happenings of Mendoza’s subjects.
Of course, there are no winners. The film is jam packed with losers on both sides of the “law” and no one will leave a screening with the hope/expectation that any of this will change anytime soon. JWR