Tuesday, April 04, 2017

SFFILM ’17: Ma’ Rosa

“Sari-sari” means variety in Tagalog and Rosa’s Sari-Sari store lives up to its name. In addition to candy and cigarettes, she and her husband deal crystal meth (literally out of a cigar box). Unfortunately, Rosa’s Sari-sari is a little too well known in the neighborhood. Inevitably, Rosa and Nestor Reyes will be busted by Metro Manila’s “finest,” but these cops are not interested in collars. They are looking for a six-figure bail/ransom payment in Brillante Ma Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Rosa Reyes is a wife, a mother, a struggling member of the proletariat, and a small-time drug dealer. Her husband Nestor is her chief accomplice, but he is more of a consumer than a seller. Wisely, they kept the dealing at arm’s length from their children, but Raquel, Jackson, and Erwin still know exactly what is going on. The police do too, but they just what to shake the couple down for money.

Since the Reyeses cannot afford the 200K “bail,” they have no option but to give up their supplier. Unfortunately, they remain on the hook for 100,000 Pesos, which their twenty-something children will have to raise quickly, by hook or by crook.

Like many of Mendoza’s films, Ma’ Rosa will leave viewers feeling waterlogged. It gives you a vivid, tactile sense of life in the rough & tumble Mandaluyong neighborhood, where it seems to monsoon several times a day. In addition to the sweltering naturalism, Ma’ Rosa offers an intimate critique of the Filipino criminal justice system, making it directly comparable in theme and tone to Mendoza’s Lola (a.k.a. Grandmother).

Jaclyn Jose is wonderfully, horribly ferocious as Rosa Reyes, whose survival imperative borders on the sociopathic, yet she still has her mothering instincts. Julio Diaz is just as chilling, but in an equal-opposite-reciprocal fashion as Nestor Diaz, the passive, soul-dead meth addict. Filipino “It Girl” actress-model Andi Eigenmann (Jose’s real life daughter) is almost unrecognizably glammed-down as the grimly dutiful Raquel (under ordinary circumstances, everyone with refined cinematic taste should be able to place her from the killer appliance movie, Fridge). As her brothers Erwin and Jackson, Jomari Angeles and Felix Roco slow burn to the point of explosion, just as Mendoza and screenwriter Troy Espiritu clearly suggest is liable to happen in the distressed Metro Manila district, as long as the cops keep running gangster-like extortion rackets.

You can label Ma’ Rosa poverty porn, but it has a tight, tense narrative, with stakes that start out high and keep rising, like a more predatory version of the Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days One Night. This is a grungy cautionary crime drama, depicting a situation nearly any Mandaluyong resident could be ensnared in. Highly recommended for those who appreciate socially-informed class-conscience drama, Ma’ Rosa screens this Saturday (4/8) and Sunday the 16th, as part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.