Filipino firebrand Brillante Mendoza (Slingshot, Kinatay) incisively explores the street-level corruption of the Duterte-era Philippines with this tragicomic tale about a low-level drug dealer (Jaclyn Jose, Best Actress winner at Cannes) on a desperate search for cash to pay a bribe to the local cops.
Brillante Ma Mendoza
In such brilliant films as Slingshot, Serbis, and the controversial Kinatay, Brillante Ma Mendoza incisively explored violence, corruption, and crime in Filipino society. With his latest film Ma' Rosa, Mendoza takes aim at the government's opportunistic crusade against the drug trade — an issue that reputedly got strongman Rodrigo Duterte elected president earlier this year — and the effect it has on the powerless in Filipino society.
Ma' Rosa (Jaclyn Jose, whose bravura performance deservedly won her Best Actress laurels at this year's Cannes Film Festival) is the de facto head of a family struggling to keep their small convenience store afloat in tough economic times. As a means of survival, Rosa has diversified the family business by venturing into the street-drug trade. When Rosa and her drug-addled husband are arrested and hauled off to a labyrinthine, makeshift police station, they unsurprisingly discover that the cops are greedier and crueller than any junkie or dealer: in addition to pressing Rosa for the names of her connections, they also demand a huge sum of cash in order to "settle this." Sent back out onto the streets to dig up the requisite bribe, Rosa embarks on a tragicomic quest reminiscent of De Sica's classic Bicycle Thieves as she is roundly rejected or lectured by the various members of her family to whom she turns for help.
Buoyed by a twisted humour, Ma' Rosa does not sentimentalize or exonerate its protagonist, but neither does it ignore the context that drove her to her extralegal endeavours. As Mendoza demonstrates, the drug trade is less an evil unto itself than it is a symptom or side effect of endemic poverty and corruption.