CANNES, France – Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte was challenged Wednesday, May 18 to stick to his promises to tackle corruption as a powerful movie exposing police graft there premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ma' Rosa – by the country's most renowned director Brillante Mendoza – tells how police extort money from a sweetshop owner in a Manila slum after they bust her for dealing drugs, forcing her family to sell everything they have to buy her freedom.
Starring one of the country's biggest stars Jaclyn Jose as the matriarch Ma' Rosa struggling to keep their heads above water, the film was inspired by a friend who also fell foul of corrupt officers, Mendoza told Agence France-Presse.
"It is based on a real story that happened four years ago, and this was not the first time it has happened," he said.
With the controversial Duterte – who won a landslide election victory this month on a populist platform to crack down on crime and reintroduce the death penalty – to be sworn in on June 30, Mendoza said, "The Philippines must change."
"I am hopeful things will change for the better. That's my goal, that's why I do these kinds of films," he added.
"He [Duterte] will do whatever he has to do as the new president and I will do what I do as an artist," he said.
Asked whether he was worried by the incoming president, who has been accused by rights groups of running vigilante death squads in his home city of Davao, Mendoza said, "I try to stay away from political issues... I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. Like everyone I am hopeful for the future. We want change.
"Honestly he doesn't really worry me. It is political."
"The mere fact that I am doing this sort of film means I am doing my country a great service and this for me is enough. Showing this film in Cannes is also an eye-opener to a lot of Europeans and First World countries. Let us get out of our shell and don't be deceived," he added. (READ: Brillante Mendoza's 'Ma' Rosa' to compete in Cannes Film Festival 2016)
Mendoza's gritty, hard-hitting films have often rubbed the Filipino authorities up the wrong way, with censors trying to stop screenings of his award-winning 2009 film Kinatay.
But he said police allowed him to shoot part of Ma' Rosa inside a real station, and several officers appeared in the film alongside Jose and her real-life daughter Andi Eigenmann who is also a huge star in the Asian country.
Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA
But the 55-year-old director – who has made a dozen acclaimed features after only picking up the camera a decade ago – said he fully expects a hostile reaction from some officers.
"I will deal with it when it happens," he told AFP, but he said he "wasn't going to lose sleep over it. If I am challenged I will ask them if they know of any similar situations. If they say, 'No,' I know they may be lying."
Jose and Eigenmann spent time living in a Manila slum to become "immersed" in their characters, Mendoza said, although Jose – who has been in several of his films – told the director that she came from an even tougher background.
He still insisted, however, that she go and live in the area so she could remind herself how people spoke and moved.
"I said to her, 'Yeah, you came from this but it is good to be reminded of it, because you have made a lot of big movies since,'" he joked. – Fiachra Gibbons, AFP/Rappler.com