Manila: In the Claws of Mendoza
Filipino director Brillante Mendoza once worked in glossy advertising, but in his films, he dives headlong into the unglam fracas of poor, bustling Manila families. Since shooting his first feature, Masseur, in 2005 at age 45, the already prolific Mendoza has attacked sympathetic immersion from different angles, ranging from careening melodrama to the in-between details of quotidian routine. The affecting Foster Child (2007) follows a slum-dwelling mother over the course of a single day, which is at once ordinary and shattering. As she wrangles, bathes, feeds and ferries her toddler about town with a busybody social worker, we learn that she must relinquish the child to new adoptive parents that very night. Mendoza thinks nothing of spending five minutes on the cooking of a meal in the family’s shoebox shack; the mother’s clingy farewell in the foreign foster parents’ sprawling hotel suite feels all the more tragically brief. Multiplying and double-timing the lower-depths distress, Slingshot (2007) is an extended handheld hustle, a Darwinian roundelay through stacked hovels and sewer-lined alleys. Men, women and children are on the make (larceny, mostly), their frustration compounded by everything eventually becoming everybody’s business. As Mendoza rotates glancingly among storylines of petty graft and betrayal, the gear-grinding shifts in soundscape underline the director’s devotion to the noise of living. The ring of despair includes a young thief losing her dentures, a man dying in a church procession, and much shrieking and sobbing. UCLA’s miniretro features a preview of Mendoza’s latest, Serbis (which opens in L.A. next week), set in the comparatively sedate environs of a family-run soft-core cinema. The camera is still very mobile, tracking mothers and hustlers and cousins up and down the theater stairs and in and out of a projection booth, while Mendoza, shooting on luminous 35mm instead of his usual video, finds beauty in the dank, peeling grandeur and — excepting one baleful boil — the amply displayed flesh of the family’s frisky teenage contingent. The stress on this Mendoza brood comes from the matriarch’s protracted divorce, but to judge from the spirit of the cute-as-a-button kid brother, tooling about in crisp school uniform and specs, there’s still hope. UCLA Film & Television Archive; through Sat., Jan. 24. www.cinema.ucla.edu. —Nicolas Rapold
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