The movies of the little-known, prolific Filipino director Brillante Mendoza are something of an acquired taste; with their generally grubby digital camerawork, their sometimes cacophonous soundtracks and their raw, here-and-now documentary-like realism, films such as 'Kinatay' and 'Trap' offer a far from flattering account of Mendoza’s homeland.
His latest continues in the same vein. It depicts the trials and tribulations suffered by the protagonist of the title, Ma' Rosa - who owns a tiny candy store in a teaming neighbourhood of Manila - her husband Nestor and their kids after they fall victim to a police raid in search of the drugs they sell as a sideline. Taken into the police precinct (or is it?), Rosa and Nestor soon find they can avoid imprisonment by paying off the corrupt cops or naming their supplier. But what if they do that and even he can’t deliver what the cops want?
The story, then, charts a quest familiar from countless realist indictments of poverty, injustice and corruption since 'Bicycle Thieves' helped to establish the format. Here, Rosa’s teenage children don’t just bear witness to their parents’ desperation, but they get actively involved in trying to obtain the cash that might secure their release. There’s a predictability to the plotting, but as ever Mendoza proves himself adept at eliciting decent naturalistic performances from his cast, and his use of long takes and travelling shots is bold and assured. If there’s nothing profoundly original or insightful here, there’s no denying the atmosphere of squalid authenticity, particularly in the scenes shot on the streets.