On corruption's trail

If Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza blames the establishment, Romanian Cristian Mungiu points fingers at us squarely

Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza continues his Cinema Verite style he displayed in Cannes in his earlier films Serbis and Kinatay in Ma Rosa, a film about a poor family in Manila.

Ma Rosa along with her husband and children runs a small shop in downtown Manila where she pushes drugs also. She is an affable person in the poor locality. One day, police arrests the husband and wife on drug peddling charges. To avoid going to prison, they had to bribe the officers. It is left to the young children to raise the bribe money.

Unlike his earlier films that portray tremendous police brutality, Ma Rosa deals with only police corruption. But they can get violent, if the money is not raised. It also holds again the camera to the underbelly of Manila, how the poor sections eek out a living in unhygienic and crowded surroundings.

“I have a personal encounter with a family in real life and I am familiar with the community and the shooting style” said Mendoza . “I am trying to know these people by heart, not only superficially. I am not just telling the story, but feel the story. How you connect with the story is more important. I am not making any statement” he added.

While the film denounces corruption in the police, Mendoza insisted that he is not making any statement in the film. It is for the audience to infer. “I try to be apolitical in my films. My films speak of so many things and they make statements by themselves” he replied. “We are here to provoke. My films are for an audience with critical thinking, not for entertainment alone” he continued. “We are making films like this because we want change”.

Another film that talks of family and corruption is Romanian Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation. A doctor in a small town is planning to send his daughter abroad for studies on scholarship after her graduation. She is intelligent and studious and it is merely a matter of time, waiting for proper grades in the fast approaching graduation exams. But there is many a slip between the lip and the cup. The daughter is attacked and injured just before her exams. She is in trauma. Behind the calm surface, the parents are going through marital problems. The doctor is having an affair with a teacher in her daughter’s college. The daughter is dating her automobile instructor. The filmmaker sets the stage with a stone thrown at their window that ushers an anxious tone to the film from the first scene.

The father is generous and full of love for his daughter. He is optimistic and when necessary, quite willing to intervene in whichever way, including influence peddling, to save her daughter’s future of studying abroad. Very serious things, like stone throwing and the attack, happen and there is a lot of tension in the family. All the scenes could have become awkward. But Mungiu deals with all the situations with great restraint and dignity.

“In a country like Romania, things are not yet settled; most of the people feel disappointed; but I did not want to pass this on to the characters,” said the filmmaker. “In the name of affection we do whatever we don’t want to do. We always try as parents to be strong. Ultimately we end up doing what we teach our children not to do.”

Talking of corruption in Romania, Mungiu said, “There is nothing like rank corruption versus soft corruption. The difference is only in quantity.

“When we use small compromise we do not notice it. I speak about social corruption and moral compromise. I have portrayed a naïve and idealistic father who is willing to make a few compromises for the sake of his daughter.”

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