A Filipino triumph at Cannes

IN 2009, Brillante Mendoza was celebrated as a rising prodigy in Philippine cinema after winning the Palme d'Or for best director at the Cannes Film Festival for "Kinatay."

This year, another Brillante opus has scored big at Cannes, with Jaclyn Jose clinching the best actress award for "Ma' Rosa."

Jose was up against a strong field that included Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. The movie received a standing ovation after its screening, a hint that something special lay ahead, although Jose herself had never expected to be a serious contender, let alone win. She didn't even bother to prepare an acceptance speech. "I am so surprised. I just went to have the red carpet walk with my daughter, my real-life daughter and my daughter in the movie also," Jose said, referring to Andi Eigenmann.

"The biggest challenge for me was not to act. Especially since I am coming from television shows where I play loud and campy characters," the 52-year-old Jose was quoted as saying.

She has been one of Mendoza's mainstays, appearing in several of his projects, including "Tirador," "Masahista" and "Serbis," the last one having competed for best picture at Cannes in 2008.

Now their collaboration has produced the first Filipino winner of a Palme d'Or for acting.

In "Ma' Rosa," Jose is the matriarch of a family in a slum neighborhood in Mandaluyong City who supplements her earnings from a sari-sari store by selling shabu on the side. When police raid the store and discover her stash, she and her husband (Julio Diaz) are hauled to the police station, where an officer demands a P200,000 bribe for their freedom.

The task of raising the money falls on the couple's three children (Eigenmann, Jomari Angeles and Felix Roco) and each must struggle with his or her own dark dilemma in order to free their parents.

Poverty, corruption, desperation. Mendoza has explored those themes before. But "Ma' Rosa" is much closer to his heart. It was filmed in Mandaluyong, not far from the director's residence, and he says he drew heavily from what was going on around him.

There was some skepticism at Cannes over whether Jose deserved the best actress award, that she should have won as best supporting actress instead.

But one juror, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, found the Filipina "to be a wonderful, wonderful leading actress, a master of her skills regardless of what the rules are in this festival. It was not a supporting character. It was an absolute beautiful, beautiful performance for lead actress. That's why she got it."

Interestingly, "Ma' Rosa" had mixed reviews before Jose's triumph at Cannes.

Here's a sampling:

Mendoza sets out to provoke outrage and he does just that, but the film's loftiest goals and highest highs never quite hit the peaks expected from Official Competition contenders.

This is the big league we're talking about, and "Ma' Rosa" just doesn't feel ready to play. -- TheWrap

["Ma' Rosa"] needs to lean heavily on its story and characters to keep audiences engaged. However, Troy Espiritu's plot-driven screenplay and Mendoza's preference for a gritty, documentary-like style mean that the final result is neither as deep nor as resonant as it could have been. That said, Ma' Rosa is an otherwise accessible art house item that can only benefit from the Cannes competition stamp of approval. -- Hollywood Reporter

Boasting a simple, coherent plot shot with real-time, handheld verismo, ["Ma' Rosa"] is a work of understated confidence that will not disappoint his festival acolytes, but probably won't win many new converts. Variety.
There is talk of entering "Ma' Rosa" in this year's Metro Manila Film Festival. That would be a first for Mendoza, who seems uncomfortable at having his works shown commercially. Despite reaping awards abroad, none of his films has struck gold at the local box office, although he is not losing sleep over it.

I'm all for it. It's time to expose Filipino moviegoers to movies that do something more than intensify the kilig factor for young love teams nurtured by the big studios.

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