Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pauwi Na (Paolo Villaluna & Ellen Ramos, ToFarm Film Festival 2016)

ToFarm Film Festival produced a decent crop of exceptional films such as Pauwi Na and Paglipay. The organizers treated the film makers well and they reaped some good karma in return.

Pauwi Na is a surprise film entry. It barely touched on the festival theme of farmers and farming. The gist of the story is about a family of five going back to their province. It may be that the screening committee sees their story as a sentimental 'back to one's roots' tale.

The family's journey is quite a challenge because they have to ride a pedicab. The sickly father (Bembol Roco) is quite accustomed to driving a pedicab but he is no longer young. Fed up with a non-paying client and stressed by urban living, he decides to take his family back home. His main reason, though, is he wants to be buried in his hometown. That story plot is taking the 'back to roots' imagery too far.

The tragic story seldom strays into melodrama because of suave cinematic inputs of the filmmakers. The pregnant daughter-in-law Isabel (Meryll Soriano) is blind but can see and chat with Jesus Christ. She gets wisdom and sometimes crucial help from the Lord.

A hysterically funny scene shows the visually impaired Isabel crossing a busy highway. The audience knows she has a guide but her family doesn't know a thing. A shot of a huffing pregnant woman in the middle of the street is juxtaposed with a shot of anxious, deeply worried family members. This whole segment is a brilliant piece of editing.

The use of black and white sequences to portray fantasy scenes also help the film from being overly dramatic. There are two deaths in the family. One such death scene was prefigured through the use of a black and white sequence.

The final shot of the remaining family members with their 'angels' backdropped with a scenic rustic view suggests that paradise is not a province. Paradise is a place where your family is. It may be a verdant field or it may be a shanty house or it may be a pedicab. As long as two family members or more decide to stick with one another, paradise will always be in their midst. Ask Isabel, she knows.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ma' Rosa (Brillante Ma. Mendoza, 2016)

Change is coming

In the film Ma' Rosa, a stout middle-aged woman is being shortchanged inside a grocery. A cashier hands out candies in lieu of coins. Ma' Rosa (Jaclyn Jose), after a brief discussion with the cashier, reluctantly takes the sweets as change.

We later learn that Ma' Rosa is owner of a sari-sari store, which serves as front for her business of peddling illegal drugs. Ma' Rosa and her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) takes precaution when dealing with clients. One rainy night, though, the police makes an illegal raid and arrests the couple.

The bulk of the film shows how the children of the couple tries to raise money for their parents' release. The sacrifices the children go through show how much they love their mother.

Ma' Rosa may not be an ideal mother but she is well-loved by her children. The eldest son (Felix Roco) lugs a CRT television around their neighborhood looking for a buyer. This is in stark contrast to the first time we see him onscreen. He grudgingly carries the grocery goods brought by her mother back then.

He doesn't seem to be a troublemaker but when he heard how their neighbor and family friend betrayed them he goes berserk. After a scuffle with the traitor, he continues with his goal of raising money.

Ma' Rosa's daughter disobeys her elder by visiting her Aunt Tilde. The youngster endures a rant from her belligerent aunt. She keeps her silence and will probably keep the visit secret from her proud mother.

The youngest child goes the extra mile to leech money from his gay benefactor. He easily convinces his lover to withdraw more money for him.

All throughout the film, the presence of Ma' Rosa is felt in the children's quests, the precinct scenes, and the money transactions. The various types of transactions remind us how important it is to insist on getting the correct change. Every centavo matters in the long run.

Mendoza touched on police corruption in his earlier award-winning Cannes film Kinatay. The police brutally chops to pieces the body of a prostitute and dumps the body parts in various places.

In Ma' Rosa, there's no killing but the spectre of death looms in the air. Unless the drug pusher comes out with evidence to nail his supplier he is likely to end up as a statistic in the war against illegal drugs. Someone has to die in place of him.

My favorite scene shows Nestor coming out from a room wearing a light blue polo T-shirt. When I saw the Manila's Finest slogan on the sleeve suggesting it was a police uniform, I was laughing out loud at the irony.

Another scene that had me in stitches involved a cop (Mon Confiado). When asked by the drug pusher's wife about the bloodied state of her husband, the cop replied 'Gasgas lang yan.' The timing of the delivery is spot-on.

Ma' Rosa producers did the right thing in releasing the film early. The Best Actress award for Jaclyn Jose at the Cannes Film Festival is still fresh in the minds of cinephiles. But, more importantly, the relevant story seems to come straight from the news headlines. 

The powerful climactic scene of Ma' Rosa suggests a positive alternative to cardboard justice killings. Ma' Rosa gets a glimpse of a better future on the streets after her release. A redemptive change is possible after all for druggies and drug personalities.

At a Sunday mass I've attended, the priest noted a huge increase in the number of people confessing their sins lately. The spike in numbers was largely due to hordes of drug users wishing to amend their lives. (Yes. I know the priest violated the seal of confession by sharing this info, but that is another story).

Hundreds have been killed in this ruthless war on druggies. Thousands of self-confessed drug users and pushers have surrendered. I hope the government has enough resources to help them change for the better.