Filipino director Mendoza’s gritty take on his country’s problems
Acclaimed Philippine filmmaker Brillante Mendoza is back at Cannes in 2016 with a new film on his homeland, this time exploring drugs, poverty and corruption through shopkeepers trying to make ends meet. Mendoza, 55, is taking part in the world’s top movie festival for the fourth time, having won the best director award in 2009 for another tale of Manila’s dark underside. His latest film, Ma’ Rosa, tells the story of a poor Manila neighbourhood stall holder who sells drugs on the side with her husband to make ends meet. The couple gets arrested, leaving their four children to try and buy their parents’ freedom from corrupt policemen.
Mendoza was an advertising industry production designer who only began making films in his mid-40s. In the decade since he has made a dozen full-length features. He is known for choosing controversial topics, crafting stories of ordinary people in scenarios that range from prostitution to homosexuality and corruption.
Known by his nickname Dante, Mendoza set up his own film production outfit in 2005 “that aims to reinvent Filipino cinema by producing meaningful and relevant films”.
His 2009 award-winner, Kinatay (The Execution of P), graphically depicted the rape, murder and dismemberment of a prostitute. Mendoza refused to distribute the film commercially in the Philippines after Cannes because it ran into trouble with conservative government censors who initially prevented its showing at a Manila university.
“I don’t think the majority would appreciate this kind of film,” he said at the time. “By their standards, it’s too dark, it’s not glossy, it doesn’t have famous actors, the camera is a bit jerky.”
However, his films are highly appreciated in Europe, giving the continent’s audiences a glimpse of contemporary Philippine society. Mendoza’s first Cannes entry in 2008, Serbis (Service), told the story of a family living in a porn movie theatre.
His Taklub, a fictionalised account of three survivors of the Super Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippine city of Tacloban and nearby areas in 2013, was also shown at Cannes last year.
Thy Womb won an award at the Venice film festival in 2012, while another film, Tirador (Slingshot), also won an award at Berlin in 2007. His Cannes victory earned Mendoza a knighthood from France. He was awarded the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) in 2014, the first Filipino director to earn it.