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Brillante Mendoza’s LOLA (Grandmother)
France/Philippines 2009

Opening 15 Jul 2010

Directed by: Brillante Mendoza
Writing credits: Linda Casimiro
Principal actors: Anita Linda, Rustica Carpio, Tanya Gomez, Jhong Hilario, Ketchup Eusebio

The grandson of Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) has been murdered over the theft of a mobile phone. As head of the family and supported by a daughter, she must organize the money for a worthy funeral and also seek justice for this crime. She visits the funeral home, sees that the casket is set up with dignity, and goes to court. The grandson of Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) is the culprit and lands in jail. This grandmother must scratch together enough money from selling vegetables on the street to pay for her grandson’s bail.

This plot seems simple enough, but the filming is so full of visual impressions that it seems much more complicated. Director Brillante Mendoza chose to film near his home in Manila, the Philippines, in an area where wooden houses hang over canals which always seem to be on the verge of overflowing. It rains constantly; the old ladies huddle under umbrellas; their shoes slap through inches of water down every road. Besides water everywhere, there are also people everywhere. What a crowded area – full of pedestrians and cars and trucks and small buses and rickshaws. People, vehicles and houses take up every available space, so that walking anywhere is a challenge. This is the daily life: crowds, rain, and very little money. With his hand-held camera, he brings a feeling for this life very close to the viewer.

The film is in Tagalog (which seems to have some similarity to Indonesian), and Lola is the Tagalog word for “grandmother.” Interestingly, when the court convenes, the judges speak in English as if public life is in English and personal life is in Tagalog. Some family members help out, e.g., Lola Sepa’s daughter Ditas and her small grandsons who accompany her everywhere. Some do not, such as Lola Puring’s son who is ill in his bed and must be fed. Her other grandson has no compassion for his jailed brother; he got his just desserts. Distant relatives in the countryside pretend to have no money, but donate two geese and some food. It is obvious that whatever happens will be initiated by the grandmothers; it is a woman’s world. The men are obvious in their absence and unwillingness to take responsibility. The verdict of the court is interesting to us in the Western World, since it is basically a bargain agreed upon by the two grandmothers between themselves. Perhaps it could be an example for us.

Brillante Mendoza is a successful Filipino director since 2005. He is known for his films which reflect the lives of his countrymen. In 2009 he won best director for his film Kinatay in Cannes. Lola played at the 2009 Venice film festival. The grandmothers are played by actresses, aged 80 and 86, who are experienced and revered in their home country.

Lola is extremely interesting to anyone who is interested in impressions of a different culture, but where, basically, the individuals are universal. Perhaps it seems slow and repetitive in spots, but the time is necessary in order to effectively present just about 36 hours in the lives of these people. (Becky Tan)

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