Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Lola

Evidently, justice is for sale in Manilla. In fact, it is so inexpensive, even the poor can afford it. Unfortunately, life is also cheap in Brillante Mendoza’s Lola (trailer here), which screens during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

One crime devastates two grandmothers. Despite the heavy wind and rain, Sepa insists on leaving a candle on the site where her grandson was fatally stabbed. It was Puring’s grandson who committed the crime. Having much in common, the grandmothers (colloquially called Lolas) should be friends. Though they share common ailments and sudden dire financial needs, their interests are diametrically opposed in the courtroom.

According to Lola, it is common practice in the Philippines for the family of the accused to financially settle their cases out of court. Far from considered bribery, Mendoza’s film suggests it is tacitly encouraged by the court. Of course, Grandmother Sepa desperately needs money for the funeral, but she also wants justice. Grandmother Puring will do anything to give her grandson a second chance, but she has precious few resources to draw on.

While Mendoza has always been a realistic filmmaker, with Lola he seems to have shifted towards the aesthetics of many independent Chinese filmmakers. His camera no longer restless, he patiently holds shots, soaking up the atmosphere. Intentionally filmed during the rainy season, Mendoza truly conveys a tactile sense of the unforgiving tropical weather. It also leads to some striking visuals, like the fragile grandmothers hunched over in the driving storm or a funeral procession consisting of boats sailing down the neighborhood’s back alleys.

Deeply expressive but utterly unaffected, the naturalness Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio as the grandmothers perfectly fits Mendoza’s extreme naturalism. Their sorrow and embarrassment are often painful to watch, but they bring a sense of pathos to the film that is hard to shake.

Mixing closely observed personal dramas with a pointed critique of his country’s justice system (or lack there of), Mendoza vividly illustrates the human and financial costs of violent crime. However, he definitely takes his time doing so. Deliberately paced, Lola is a challenging film that will not be to all tastes, but it definitely delivers an emotional payload to viewers who stay with it. It screens during Tribeca on Thursday (4/22), Friday (4/23), and Saturday (4/24).