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Dissecting ‘Ma’ Rosa’

Updated on February 27, 2017

MA' ROSA Movie Poster

MA' ROSA Official Trailer

Dissecting ‘Ma’ Rosa’

In perhaps one of the most prestigious nights of the year, a Filipina actress named Jaclyn Jose shocked the world by winning the coveted best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her gritty performance in the movie ‘Ma’ Rosa’—beating Hollywood heavyweights Charlize Theron (US entry "The Last Face" directed by Sean Penn) and Marion Cotillard (France's "Mal de Pierres" / "From the Land of the Moon" directed by Nicole Garcia) in the process.

To say that what Jose accomplished in France on that glamorous Sunday night (May 22) was ‘no ordinary feat’ is the understatement of the century. She’s the first Filipina to bag the Best Actress award in Cannes Film Festival. Only two other Filipinos won in this prestigious festival. Brillante Mendoza (who is also the director of this film) won the first best director honor at Cannes back in 2009 for Kinatay and Raymond Red won the Short Film Palme d'Or in 2000.

I’ve always believed that the Philippine movie industry has a great pool of unbelievably talented filmmakers and actors and given the right material--anything other than the usual ‘love triangle’ trope that big studios regurgitate year in and year out—our talents can compete with the best in the world. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a glossy, overproduced star-driven flick. All it needs is an innovative storyline, great direction and execution and with the right platform, it will find the right audience—eventually.

Case in point: Ma’ Rosa (short for Mama Rosa), an immersive, visceral and socially-relevant documentary-type piece of indie film that doesn’t try to impress you with fancy shots or expensive set pieces. What it lacks in glitz and gorgeous cinematography, it more than makes up for its uncanny ability to inject realism in every scene, every dialogue, every performance.

The plot is simplistic yet relatable. Ma’ Rosa is Rosa Reyes (Jaclyn Jose), a mother/wife who owns a ‘sari-sari’ store and in order to make ends meet, she, along with her husband (played by Julio Diaz), moonlights as a small-time drug dealer. One day, the police raided the store and confiscated their drug stash. The police told them that if they don’t pay them P 200,000, they’d be sent to rot in jail without bail. Short with cash and with nowhere else to go, her children Jackson (Felix Roco) and Raquel (Andi Eigenmann) were forced to do whatever it takes, even morally reprehensible things to come up with the money.

Sounds familiar? Well, because it’s based on real events according to Director Brillante Mendoza. And may I say, he handled this minimalist and all-too-familiar material with deft and precision. His attention to detail and realism is second to none. In one of his interviews, he mentioned that he required his actors to go through an ‘immersion’ process wherein they had to live with the locals in the slums, mingle with them and do stuff with them sans make up and modern conveniences for a certain time period in preparation for their roles.

The method paid off as what you see on screen don’t seem like actors but real people who are going about their day-to-day business; living in abject poverty at that. It is a depiction of Manila’s dark underbelly that’s rife with exploitation and corruption and it felt real—even too real in some scenes.

And Jaclyn Jose, need I say more? She was the heart and soul of this film. Though I’ve seen her in countless soap operas and films in the past, her performance in ‘Ma’ Rosa’ was a revelation. Her subtle and nuanced portrayal of a mother living in squalor in the sprawling city of Mandaluyong was very effective and heart wrenching.

When asked how she prepared for the role, Jose said that she had to forget everything she learned in her 30 years in the business.

"The biggest challenge for me was not to act. Especially since I am coming from television shows where I play loud and campy characters," she told the reporters.

Brava Jaclyn! For not being afraid to try something new and for getting out of your comfort zone, you’ve become a much more layered and profound actress. Which by the way, is what the film industry in this country should be doing in order to break out of the proverbial ‘creative rut’. I’m not suggesting that the producers, directors and ‘the powers that be’ should all go the ‘indie ’route. No, that’s not it! All I’m saying is that we need vision not gimmicks. And when I say that, I mean to not be ruffled by adversity and to look past the finances. Don’t be risk-averse, be risk-diverse.

To the cast and crew of ‘Ma’ Rosa’, especially Jaclyn Jose and Brilliante Mendoza, you did the country proud. You showed the world that with the right conviction and preparation, anything is possible. The country has a plethora of talented filmmakers and actors who are just waiting for their opportunity to showcase their talents for the whole world to see. Let us not deny them that chance. It’s squander or nurture—depending on what the studios decide to do next from here on out. The plot thickens…

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