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The Granny Diaries

MOVIE REVIEW
Lola (2010)

Lola-brillante-mendoza-venice-film-festival
Swift Productions/Tribeca Film Festival

Two years ago I watched Brillante Mendoza's "Foster Child" at Edinburgh, an experience that could not have been more bracing if the director had turned up and slapped me in person. This year his "Lola" had a similar effect. Mr. Mendoza's welding of documentary staging and local color onto angry agitprop is a style which looks like no style at all — until the bruises start to rise. He is the master of the confrontational whisper.

Lola is an affectionate Tagalog term for a sweet elderly lady; and "Lola" follows a pair of them. Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) has lost her grandchild to a petty thief, and Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) is the grandmother of accused murderer Mateo (Ketchup Eusebio). Both equally heartsick and broke, the Lolas grapple with their familial obligations and the hazards of Manila in the rainy season until circumstances compel one of them to beg the other for understanding.

Although both lead actresses have a long string of credits, Mr. Mendoza stages so many seemingly unguarded moments of harassment, frustration, argument and weariness that the Lolas appear to have stumbled in front of the camera by mistake. Grainy 35mm may or may not assist this kind of naturalism depending on your taste, but it adds grit to the emotional wash of the film, which is dripping with atmosphere in the torrential downpours already.

The divisive issue with Mr. Mendoza is the social commentary, which tends to arrive wrapped around a brick. Frustration simmers behind the Lolas' entanglement in red tape, but the results are not a million miles away from the scrapes that a sitcom character would get into. Tourists on a train are made to sound condescending by setting them against Lola Puring's agonies, a tactic the director used in "Foster Child" to spear an American couple he was keen to draw a bead on. Despite appearances, the stories from Cannes 2009 of "Kinatay" and its graphic slaughter are not difficult to square with "Lola's" slow-burn emotional charge and unsubtle indignities.

Palatable or not, the director's approach makes for a singular experience. Anyone with an opinion about what realism looks like in fictional films will have to accommodate Mr. Mendoza in their theory sooner or later.

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