Ma’ Rosa (2017): SIFF Review

Ma’ Rosa (2017)

dir. Brillante Mendoza

written by: Troy Espiritu

starring: Jaclyn Jose


Between the best actress award at Cannes and its entry as the Philippines’ foreign language feature at last year’s Oscars, Ma’ Rosa developed a hearty reputation for its natural delivery on a minuscule budget.  When their parents are arrested for dealing drugs from their bodega/home in Manila, the children of Rosa, the family matriarch, and her husband Nestor seek the ransom for their parents’ release, or they face possible life in prison.  Shot with handheld recorders among Manila’s more destitute districts.

Highlighting abuses of police power and the financial desperation for its victims, unjustly harsh sentences have produced a pyramid scheme, preying on the most vulnerable citizens, of perpetrators turning in suppliers and dealers but maintaining the blackmail profits for corrupt law enforcement.  The Reyes family is forced to resort to fraught measures to provide for their freedom.  They must barter with family, neighbors, and customers to pawn their belongings and dignity because they tried to make ends meet, give themselves enough money to barely pay for rice and street food.


Cannes best actress winner Jaclyn Jose headlines a strong cast as the title carrier.  Stern, discerning, and gruff, this mother has no time to handle bullshit, as she’s surrounded by it, herding her kids and keeping tabs on who owes her and swapping supplies with local vendors.  When she is arrested, years of worries boil to the surface.  Seeing children handle used bottles from the back of the police transport, her fear for her own offspring grows as she realizes the dangers of her current predicament.  Rather than large facial appears, her glances are timed with impenetrable quality.  Formulating a plan for best behavior and quickest escape, Jaclyn Jose demonstrates Rosa as a woman capable of deciding on her next steps with her instincts aiming for familial protection.  Her final scene is devastating; organic and climactic.

This crushing portrayal of corruption and determination rattles around through flooded roads and dilapidated buildings with unnerving authenticity.  Barraged by the Reyes’ families problematic night, the audience is invited into a culturally specific issue with wider reaching accessibility for police brutality and corruption through the United States.  Abuses of power a frequent in those given governmental approval to dictate behavior, and Ma’ Rosa demonstrates the plight of a family across the world as linked to similar issues faced in the United States, recently examined as well in the SIFF screening of Crown Heights.  Acknowledging the issue is the first step to solving and placing artistic attention on the problem will assist in spreading awareness of the unfair nature of such blind power.


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