Ma’ Rosa is another take on the survival of the underprivileged against a broken system. In verite style that marks Mendoza’s works, handheld cameras shoot a day in the life of its titular character. The grubby aesthetics fit the story very well – a mother makes ends meet by operating a small convenient store that doubles as a secret meth shop.
The script depicts the deeply rooted problems of Filipino society through a single incident – Rosa and her husband are caught by the police who want to know who their source is, but only to get a payout. The narrative turns into a black comedy as the predicament is presented as a normal everyday occurrence. In one scene, an errand boy buys chicken and beer with the first payment.
The movie acknowledges that this extortion scheme is not as simple as it looks. Details tell the audience that corruption is spread from top to bottom, the only difference is connections. It combines with crime and poverty to create a vicious cycle where the only means of escape is by stepping over somebody else. In better days you are an accomplice, at the worst times you are the victim. Rosa and her family end up having the responsibility of settling the remaining balance of the payout.
Andi Eigenmann is not convincing as a poor teen (that conyo accent slips now and then) but the rest of the casting is on point. Mark Anthony Fernandez and Baron Geisler were perfect for their role given their history behind the camera. Julio Diaz nailed the portrayal of a drug addict. The highlight of the movie is Jaclyn Jose, who gives us the emotional punch that the movie sorely needed.
Ma’Rosa is driven by the plot. You won’t know anything about the family. There is no sense of urgency here, as the two couple gets cramped in the office while their kids collect the cash.
Still, Ma’ Rosa excels as a naturalistic eye-opener about the small yet frustrating truths of being poor.
The narrative is littered with details that reflect Filipino society such as rubbernecking, piecemeal profits, and family ties.
It expertly builds up desperation and shows us how the poor persist, one laborious step at a time. You want Rosa and her kids to succeed, but you also realize that even if they do, it’s a temporary reprieve.
Ma’Rosa ends with a gut-punching catharsis and its story will remain with you after the credits roll. It doesn’t tell anything new about the Filipino poor. But this Cinemalaya entry is still a compelling social commentary.
In a broken system where corruption, crime, and poverty are intertwined, people take advantage of whoever is within their reach and the only justice you have is the one you can afford.
Ma' Rosa is a compelling look at the soul-crushing plight of the poor trapped in a vicious cycle of corruption and poverty, amplified by stellar performances.