Brillante Mendoza’s 2016 Cannes main derby film on ‘shabu tiangge’

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Boy Villasanta

Ma’ Rosa is the entry internationally acclaimed Filipino filmmaker Brillante Ma. Mendoza is bringing to the main competition of the 69th Cannes International Film Festival to be held on May 11 to 22 at the Palais de Festival in French Riviera.

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However, before it was sent to the selection committee of the prestigious world film festival, the official entry’s title has evolved from one working one title after another like “Palit-Buhay” to “Palit-Ulo,” which were roughly translated to “In Exchange for Life” and “In Exchange for a Head,” respectively, or simply, “Ex-Deal.”

Brillante, also known in the biz as Dante Mendoza, had to rethink of a more appealing and easy recall title especially among foreign audiences, according to his publicist Rene Durian, hence, Ma’ Rosa.

“We had to brainstorm on the final title of the film although it was Dante who had the final say,” informed Durian on the phone.

Ma’ Rosa has been grinding since 2015 and has just been canned early this year, but Mendoza had enough field days to pull off a satisfyingly competitive film meant for the global market.

The film is about the subculture of drug menace or drug fiesta in the slums popularly called “shabu tiangge” where methamphetamine as a prohibited drug is openly sold to users in the neighborhood or from the outsiders as timely as today’s headlines.

In an interview with Brillante during the filming, he said that “Palit-Ulo” (when it was still a tentative title) is on a “real time” structure whose story happens in just one day. “Real time” is one facet of “found story” where it is rendered in one solid time and space like a 24-hour journey in the life of a person.

Ma’ Rosa whose “real time”—in one solid time and space like a 24-hour journey in the life of a person—is embedded in the “found story” concept, an original novel idea where the subject isn’t in a vacuum. It has a connection to all situations, actors and reactors (read: characters) in the story.

“Found story” was theorized and employed by screenwriter and director Armando “Bing” Lao, one of Mendoza’s mentors.

“Ma’ Rosa is a combination of ‘Tirador’ and ‘Kinatay (The Execution of P)’,” quipped Durian referring to the past films of Dante, the former on petty thieves among youngsters in the city and the latter on the murder by a drug syndicate of a Manila prostitute who failed to deliver the goods, which gave Mendoza the elusive 2009 Palm d’Or Best Director.

When Dante speaks and shows the dark side of Philippine society onscreen he is dubbed as a purveyor of poverty porn, an apparently condescending attribution, but he has his thoughts on the issue. “It’s not exploiting the situation. It’s not poverty porn. It’s exoticizing the people,” he explained.

“Ma’ Rosa, which stars Jaclyn Jose, Andi Eigenmann, Felix Roco, Jomari Angels, Mercedes Cabral, Kristofer King, Julio Diaz and a host of other Mendoza coterie of actors, including workshop students from the director’s acting lab, is another objectification of the subject on drug issues. Brillante admitted that ironically, he sees the squalid drug problem in the slums in the camaraderie and filial unity and joy among family members and residents.

“As a filmmaker I am detached from what happens to the characters. They have their own life to live. I just let them live. I don’t judge them in my film,” he said.

Jose plays a mom and a shabu peddler as well which her family condones, as its members are also parts of the trade.

According to Dante, Jose is very impressive in the film and is a shoo-in for an acting award.

“As usual, Jaclyn Jose is very good. No small roles for this big actress,” Mendoza noted.

Even Durian confided that a French film distributor is impressed by the actress and that she has an edge in the Palm d’Or.

“The Mendoza team is preparing for the 2016 Cannes. We don’t have the play date yet of the film but Dante can suggest his preference,” said Durian.

This is the fourth time Brillante is competing in the main section of Cannes since Serbis in 2008 and Kinatay in 2009; and in Un Certain Regard for Taklub in 2015 when it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize.

Mendoza is competing with equally renowned world filmmakers as Spain’s Pedro Almodovar (Julieta), South Korea’s Park Chan-Wook (Agassi The Handmaiden), USA’s Sean Penn (The Last Face), Jeff Nichols (Loving), Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) and many more illustrious world directors.

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