Ma Rosa (2016)

Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Country:  Philippines

Filipino director Brillante Mendoza (“Kinatay”, “Grandmother”) responds to the crisis lived in his country with another descriptive drama, set in the fervent Manila, about a couple, Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) and Nestor Reyes (Julio Diaz), whose illegal activities carry out in their small convenience store are subject to search by the corrupt local police, leading to their subsequent arrest.

With three children to feed, Rosa is clearly the head of the family and the one who maintains everything under control in the household. She provides for the family while taking an eye on her vicious husband. Since the money obtained from the store is not enough to cover the needs, the couple plunged head first into the ‘ice’ business, becoming popular small-scale crystal meth suppliers for the entire neighborhood. Their life has changed for better since then and, regardless some debts to collect here and there, they don’t have to worry so much. Besides, it's not uncommon to see Rosa helping out the ones knocking on her door to ask for financial help.

Emergent writer Troy Espiritu, in its first collaboration with Mendoza, makes his point by showing us how tough and contradictable life may be. Sometimes your best friends are the ones who turn you in. Other times, even those who you don’t get along with, can save you from the most sordid situations.

Another shocking focal point has to do with the open dishonesty embraced by the Filipino police agents. Those guys suck the transgressors to the bone, asking for bribing money with a scoffing posture that is painfully vexing. Through Rosa, they also reached her supplier, the young Jomar (Kristoffer King), who, in turn, works for a big fish. That means thick bundles of cash to their pockets and a reason to celebrate with roasted chicken and beers.

Not satisfied with what they got, the agents ask for a higher bail to free Nestor and Rosa, who become totally dependent on her children, Jackson (Felix Roco), Erwin (Jomari Angeles) and Raquel (Andy Eigenmann). Each of them will have to put their minds to work and find ways to collect the required sum. Nevertheless, thrills are not particularly increased.
Rosa’s sharp tongue and frequent vulgar language easily become the funny side of a story rendered with rawness and nearness, which make it pretty much alive, even considering the dark scenario.

The point here is how would you educate your own children in these circumstances to make them better human beings and look to the future with optimism and confidence. It makes you ponder about what options do they have in a place like Manila, where the struggles to survive are overpowering.

Understated, “Ma’ Rosa” comes deprived of the traumatic agony of “Kinatay” and the mordant plot of “Grandmother”, but still bestows this in-your-face authenticity that keeps us interested. The social realism conveyed here is not new, though, and Mendoza did it clearly better in previous moves. Even saturated with active camera movements, his direction feels a bit stiff, and the power of the scenes comes mostly from the capture of the poor milieu and the cast's forceful acting.